By TOM GODFREY
Cop-turned-politician Bill Blair is a man with a good heart who ended up being one of Toronto’s most divisive police chiefs.
It is no surprise that one day after retiring as chief, Blair announced he was seeking the Liberal candidacy for the federal riding of Scarborough Southwest that is now held by NDP Dan Harris.
A poll taken last February found that Blair can pummel Harris if an election is called this year.
The strapping former 10-year chief will be a great door-to-door campaigner in a largely Liberal area that is also eyed by about six other candidates, including former CTV announcer Tim Weber, who has been canvassing the area for months.
The diverse riding where Blair raised his family, includes the neighbourhoods of Birch Cliff, Birchmount Park, Cliffside, Kennedy Park and Golden Mile.
Some residents believe the pent up anger held by members of the Black community and others over a watered-down carding policy adopted by the Toronto Police Services Board will not severely damage Blair’s bid for public office.
They admit Blair for the most part had a good record in his treatment of visible minorities until the G20 and Community Engagements Policy came along.
Former Board member Roy Williams, the first Black to hold that position, predicted Blair’s hard-earned reputation will remain unblemished.
Blair will not become the first cop elected to Parliament. He will join Julian Fantino, another former Toronto chief who is lackluster at best judging from the way he outraged soldiers as Veterans Affairs minister.
Mind you, Blair is much more articulate and media-friendly than Fantino. He is also popular and well-liked in general by the public.
Blair in a round of interviews said he is closely aligned to the Liberals under Justin Trudeau and wanted to serve the public in a higher capacity. He had been approached by all the federal parties to run as a candidate.
He is personable and can charm voters with his big smile and voice of so-called reason.
Blair is by far one of the most articulate chiefs we have ever had in Toronto and I have covered at least six of them.
Under his tenure we have had three visible minority deputy chiefs, with one, Mark Saunders, being selected to the top job. He has also promoted many others in the field.
Even though he holds many credits and accolades, Blair will always be remembered by many as the chief who had the chance to level the playing field between police and the Black and Brown communities and in the end he did very little.
Not only did Blair buckle to pressure from the Toronto Police Association, but many believe that he sold out the community and in doing so may have lost most of the credibility and goodwill he had garnered.
The Board, who were his boss, has shown they lack backbone and appeared as if they were supporting the Association, rather than the public, over whose interest they are mandated to oversee.
In the end the issue of carding will place a huge dent for years to come in his armor and leave many in the community wondering if they were used by Blair in his quest for a higher political calling.
It must be noted that he opposed the more than 30 community members and groups that appeared at hearings to express displeasure with the new carding policy.
These community activists are joining many others who claim that Blair has got to go.
They say that under Blair’s regime, citizens were subjected to racial profiling, carding, being kettled, manhandled by police and even arrested for attending the G20 Summit.
Blair may have been a good chief, a smoother talker and charming, but in the end he left a trail of outraged people in his wake.