An exciting municipal election

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor

With just under three weeks to go before the municipal elections across Ontario, things seem to be heating up. Usually, municipal elections, when we elect our mayors, city councillors and school board trustees, do not attract a lot of attention and are not as exciting as federal and provincial elections. That is unfortunate. These folks (the ones who get elected) will have a more immediate impact on our day-to-day lives than the folks at Queen’s Park or in Ottawa.

The councillors are the ones who look after the fixing of our roads, ensuring that our garbage is picked up on time and that the snow is cleared from our streets, for example. They are responsible for local public transit, the police, fire and ambulance services. The trustees look after the education of our children.

Just last week, the City of Toronto enacted a bylaw to control how many cars residents can park in their driveway. That is how up-in-your-business they can get. And they have the power to levy fines if you do not comply, in this case, up to $5,000.

City councillors are the people responsible for gumming up traffic in Toronto with all those bike lanes and traffic calming devices they say other residents want. And, that is important to note. They respond to the needs of and complaints from residents. (Try contacting your federal MP or your provincial MPP and see how far you get with any complaints.)

So, how come they don’t respond to your needs and complaints, you might ask. Good question. They need to see you. They need to know that you are an engaged citizen, that you participate in your community and neighbourhood. And, most important, they need to know that you vote.

When they see you volunteering your time or contributing financially to their election campaign; when they see you carrying their signs on your lawn; when they see you at their rallies supporting them that is when they know that you are engaged in the process and that they have to listen to you because, next time around, you might be supporting their opponent.

This election is more exciting than municipal elections usually are for some very important reasons. In Toronto, Mayor David Miller is not running for re-election. That leaves the field wide open. Unfortunately – or maybe it is fortunate – none of the four (media-ordained) frontrunners really stands out. So they have to work harder to get our attention and, they hope, our vote. It is surprising that in this country’s largest (and, of course, most exciting and most amazing) city the candidates for the top job are presenting us such a difficult time in terms of whom to choose. Not that they are all so great but that they are all so, well, average.

Councillor Rob Ford, for example, has been carried to the front of the pack on a wave of public anger at city hall over a bunch of things including a sense that the city has been nickel-and-diming us to death with a lot of taxes and fees – including that stupid five-cent fee for plastic bags (as much as I admire Miller, he lost me on that one. Who really benefits from those fees, anyway, except the stores which used to give those bags away). Then there are all those news stories about the wasteful spending by councillors who, we are sure, would not be as careless with their own money.

But, is Ford what this city really needs?

A couple of weeks ago, some folks called Ford to complain that a marathon was causing traffic havoc downtown. His response was that he didn’t know that the race was being run. Doesn’t he read at least one newspaper each day, even the Toronto Sun, his leading cheerleader? He wants to be the mayor of a city in which he doesn’t know what is going on?

Some time ago, he was asked his thoughts on the development on the waterfront. He admitted that he didn’t know much about it, but that it was too expensive. How would he know it was too expensive if he didn’t know much about it? And, how long has he been a city councillor, 10 years?

You can’t run a city such as Toronto on the politics of ‘No’. We need to see a more positive approach.

Is George Smitherman going to be a better mayor? We can’t say for sure. He is still much too fuzzy on where he wants to take this city. Probably he has not gotten over the fact that he lost his early frontrunner status.

Joe Pantalone is a known entity. He has been a city councillor almost forever and we all know just where he stands – right next to Miller. If you liked what Miller has done with (and to) Toronto, you probably will like Pantalone.

I like Miller (in spite of the five-cent plastic bags). I think he has been a very good mayor and that history will remember him as one of the best and most progressive mayors this city has had. Have you seen all the development that has taken place downtown? The city is amazing. Especially the waterfront.

And for those of us who find the bike lanes a bit of a nuisance, just look at the faces of the cyclists using those lanes. I have. They look happy and relieved that they don’t have to put their lives at risk each time they ride in the city. After all, this city – and its streets – belongs to them too.

Toronto has also been great for the arts and culture (although more can and should be done for Caribana. You knew I would try to get that in, didn’t you? If Pantalone becomes mayor, maybe he will remove Councillor Joe Mihevc – who is also seeking re-election – as the liaison to Caribana and replace him with someone more conciliatory, especially now that he has thrown his support behind Smitherman.)

Rocco Rossi seems a nice enough fellow, but this is definitely not his time. And, that play on the mafia theme for his advertising? Not his finest moment.

But, the mayoral race is not the only one that is interesting in the city. There are a number of people from our community running for seats on city council and on their local boards of education as trustees. Over the next three weeks, beginning with this issue, we will highlight as many of them as we can.

We need people at the table when decisions are being made that will affect our lives and those of our children. When the Toronto District School Board was debating whether or not to approve an Africentric school, the vote came down to one Black councillor. Had he not voted in favour, it would not have happened. Of course, that is unfair to the other councillors who are not Black and who also voted in favour. Without their votes it would not have been approved either. But you get my drift. Had his seat been taken by someone who was not in favour, someone like Josh Matlow who still opposes the school for Black children and is now running for a seat on city council (take note, people), we would not have that school. And look how successful it has become after just one year. By the way, another Black trustee on the board voted against it. So, you never know. Just goes to show that we have to be very careful when voting for candidates, even if they are Black or from our community. Check them out carefully.

And, for goodness, sake, remember the politicians who are not Black or from our community but who have been fair and supportive of our issues and initiatives. There are a lot of them and they deserve all the support we can give them. You should know who they are. If not, find out and: Vote for them!

Someone is going to get elected, whether you vote or not. That person might not care about you or your children. Wouldn’t you rather he or she be someone of whom you approve and someone you had a hand in electing? That won’t happen if you don’t get out and vote on October 25 (or at one of the advance polls).

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