Last night I attended an all-candidates debate for ward 32 (Beaches – East York) council hopefuls, hosted by the Danforth East Community Association, at Kimbourne Park United Church. As far as I know all of the candidates still in the race were in attendance. I was one of several people present who live-tweeted the event, and here I’m going to attempt to compile my twitter notes on the evening. Unfortunately, I learned that twitter isn’t the best platform for this kind of thing, especially since my phone kept losing signal inside the church. Next time I’ll bring a pen & paper.
The candidates were introduced and gave opening statements in alphabetical order. They are:
Bruce Baker: a former TTC bus & subway driver. He’s against the land transfer and personal vehicle taxes. Says he was the only candidate to defend the Teehan family’s plan to build an accessible home on Beech Avenue, and the only candidate to fight against the city’s untendered exclusivity deal with the Foulidis family.
Keith Begley: grew up in the beach, his pamphlet mentions many community groups he’s been involved with. Wants to bring back Neighbourhood Watch, and set up a process for the community to review new development.
Sandra Bussin: the 13-year incumbent councillor points out her long service record. She supports Transit City including the new Ashbridge’s Bay LRT facility, and mentions her work to shut down the garbage incinerators previously on the site.
Brad Feraday: number one issue is the city’s debt. He would fight the deficit with accountable spending, and would implement multi-year budgeting. Mentions socially progressive financial planning. He’s taking a three-month leave of absence from his career to run for council. Solving the financial crisis is urgent.
Mary-Margaret McMahon: opens with “respect for taxpayers” line. She condemns the wasteful spending habits of some councillors, and lists and series of community projects she’s been involved with which received no taxpayer money.
Neil Sinclair: opens by saying that the election can’t be about left vs right. Next sentence, says he would end the socialist nonsense at city hall. I guess he meant that it has to be right vs left.
Pre-submitted questions are asked by the moderator, and the candidates give 30 second answers in reverse order, the first response shifting each time. If a candidate names another candidate, that candidate is allowed a 30 second rebuttal. Each candidate also has one blue “wild card” they can use at any time for an additional answer.
The first question is about a specific 12-storey development at Danforth & Woodbine, and increasing development density overall. Sinclair is up first, and says he supports developing density along rapid transit corridors. McMahon agrees, but says the development at Danforth & Woodbine should be limited to 9 storeys. Unfortunately I lost some tweets here, and I can’t say what the other candidates responded. As I recall everyone gave some variation of the same “build up along the subway” answer.
For question #2, asker wants to know why city is spending half of the budget on staffing and what candidates will do about it. Nobody checks the numbers, but the moderator re-frames the question as being about contracting out services, and the candidates go with it.
McMahon gives a vague answer about exploring outsourcing “if it comes to the table.” My cell network lost Feraday’s response. Bussin is very much against, and won’t consider outsourcing any services; crowd doesn’t like her answer. After Begley and Baker respond in favour of contracting out, lawyer Sinclair smartly responds that you can’t just cancel the union contracts, but the city must be better at bargaining to get better deals.
Question #3 is about empty storefronts on the Danforth. In fact this could apply to many streets in the ward, but the asker probably lives nearby. Feraday says build complete streets. Encouraging people to get out on the street and involved in their own community benefits local economy. Bussin says BIAs are working, and somehow takes credit for the Beaches International Jazz Festival. Baker would institute a 20-minute grace period for parking violations to bring more cars to the streets, because fines penalize people for shopping here. Apparently there aren’t enough cars on the streets? Sinclair answers that high taxes in Toronto are driving away businesses, although it’s been pointed out previously that Toronto’s property taxes are the lowest in the GTA. McMahon suggests partnering local businesses with local community groups.
Question #4 is an easy one: who do the candidates support for mayor? Moderator says name only, or “none.” Amusingly, all of the candidates answered “none.” Except someone said Smitherman, but audience was already chuckling and I missed who it was.
Question #5 is the inevitable Tuggs question. Do candidates support the 20-year sole-source contract with Tuggs Inc. to operate the Boardwalk Pub and concessions throughout the beach?
Bussin is first up. She defends the 20-year lease, saying the Foulidis family are good people, that the deal is fair and good value for the city, and that the deal was approved by council. Baker is next, points out that Tuggs is suing him for slander. He fought the deal because it’s not transparent, taxpayers don’t know the details and can’t know if it’s good value or not. Sinclair responds that he doesn’t like cities dealing with monopolies, especially monopolies that sue people, and he’s a lawyer! McMahon adds that because the deal covers the whole beach, for the next 20 years community groups can’t hold events on the beach.
At this point Bussin feels attacked and wants her rebuttal; crowd heckles emphatically. Moderator says she wasn’t called out by any candidate, so no rebuttal. Feraday says the contract should have been an open tender. After his answer, it’s not clear to me whether Bussin is allowed to rebut or uses her wild card, but she is allowed to speak briefly, saying the city has been criticized for its lack of public private partnerships. But she doesn’t say by who. Strange thing to hear from a demonstrably left-wing politician.
Question #6 is on the new Ashbridge’s Bay LRT facility. Do the candidates support it? Begley answers first: he’s against it. People who live around Russell carhouse hear streetcars coming & going all day & all night, and they hate it. Baker agrees, and condemns Bussin for supporting the new facility. Sinclair is also against it, saying that we’re buying new cars to replace the old ones, so make space in the existing facilities. McMahon throws in that Canada Post’s depot is in the same area and they weren’t consulted until the very last minute, so vehicles coming & going will be competing for road space and are bound to cause conflicts. Feraday adds that there were 21 other areas available for consideration by the city. Bussin responds that 50 of 204 new cars will go to Russell, but the rest need a new 22-acre facility. Removing contaminated topsoil from old incinerator site is a positive side benefit to the Ashbridge’s Bay location. She knows her numbers on this one.
Question #7 is on term limits. Asker specifically asks if candidates support a two-term limit for elected officials. Baker, Sinclair and McMahon all quickly answer that they support a 2-term limit. Feraday says he supports term limits, but wants the limit to be longer because new councillors need time to learn the ropes. 13-year incumbent Bussin is opposed to term limits and is quickly shouted down by the now hostile crowd. She asks for more time because of the shouts but doesn’t get it. She says it’s the start of U.S.-style politics, and “why would you want someone who can’t find the bathroom?” (via @robedits) Begley is also opposed to term limits, saying politicians should be allowed to continue to serve as long as the public supports them.
Question #8 is on social housing & social assistance in the ward. I missed exactly how the question was asked. Sinclair answers that it’s a visible issue in our ward, that the city is the worst landlord, and there is a backlog of repairs needed. McMahon says we need an inventory of units and necessary repairs to move forward. Feraday says we need to reduce taxes to help businesses so people can get back to work, then city can dispose derelict units. Bussin condemns downloading of social housing to cities by Harris government, and points out that law forbids city from disposing units until replacement units are built. Begley says he won’t use $80,000 of taxpayer money to give away cigarettes to the homeless.
Question #9 is on the environment, and again I missed exactly how it was asked. McMahon must have also missed it, because she jumps into an attack on Feraday’s three-month leave of absence, saying she took six. Feraday congratulates her before giving an intelligent answer on green technologies developed in Toronto that can be implemented in the beach such as geothermal energy and deep-water cooling in the lake – this is where I should have brought a pen & paper so I could have written down more detail on his answer, it was good. Bussin talks about her involvement in council’s green living initiatives, green roofs, etc. Begley says we need to do a better job educating people on how to live in more environmentally friendly ways, in their own homes. Baker admits that he lacks knowledge in this area, but would consult with environmental experts. Sinclair gives another smart response about cars producing smog, and building better transit systems so people can get around without their cars.
Tenth question is about the East Lynn Farmers Market. Bussin says she helped push approval through city, McMahon responds that she never saw any other candidate at planning meetings. Others all commend McMahon’s work to organize the market, and Begley suggests another market should open on the beach. This was one of those questions where nobody can really say that they’re opposed to it, but Sinclair manages to say that farmers markets are popular now, sometimes they don’t work out but it’s good that this one did.
Question #11: asker wants to know what candidates will do about the land transfer tax. Bussin explains that higher levels of government downloaded services to city without increasing payments, so new revenue streams necessary, hence land transfer tax and personal vehicle tax, or else increased property tax. Begley calls PVT “birthday tax”, he & Baker would repeal both by cutting waste. Sinclair & McMahon agree, both saying revenue would be made up elsewhere. Feraday also hates both taxes, but recognizes that they can’t be repealed before the budget can take the loss in revenue, so he would find ways to reduce spending first.
Question #12 is about parking harmonization. I have to admit that I don’t understand this issue, so although some people filled me in after the fact, my twitter notes are pretty vague. Baker & Sinclair say illegal parking pads should be legalized. McMahon says something about it being ridiculous, but since I don’t know the issue I’m not sure what she means. Bussin explains that harmonization doesn’t affect ward 32, and there is a process for new & existing parking pads to be approved. Sorry, I was doing my best here.
For the final question, the asker wants to know how the candidates feel about councillors using city funds to sue constituents. Moderator reminds audience that we’re all grown-ups and to be nice and let people answer. This one is obviously directed at Bussin. Baker answers in two words: “it’s wrong.” Lawyer Sinclair starts to explain the idea of “slap lawsuits” being used to discourage and punish criticism. Feraday acknowledges slap lawsuit idea, but says councillors doing their jobs should be allowed to defend themselves from libel. Bussin launches into what sounds like a conspiracy theory of tabloid magazines ganging up to run her out of town, so that developers can take over the beach. “It hasn’t been easy,” she says. Thing is, she’s probably right.
On to closing statements, in reverse order from the opening. Sinclair thanks the audience and the people he’s hearing at their doors as he canvasses the ward. McMahon gets big cheers for saying she’ll listen to the community instead of assuming she knows what’s best. Feraday will fight city hall deficit & waste with smart, socially progressive spending policies. Bussin uses her closing to continue defending her lawsuit. Begley wants to keep beach facilities open year-round, plow multi-use paths & maintain washrooms, and increase community consultation and involvement. Baker says he’s the only candidate with a real platform, will work for better transit, better value for tax dollars, will work with anyone who the people elect as their mayor.
After closing statements there was a procedural dispute between the moderator and candidates who hadn’t used their 30-second wild card, and some were given time but I completely missed what they were saying as people had started moving around and I was at the back of the room where my phone would get a signal. Again, not the best way to record a debate on my part.
I came into this debate not knowing much about any of the candidates, and having no clue who I would vote for next Monday. I can’t support Sandra Bussin because of her crusade against the Teehan family, and in this debate she spoke with all the sincerity of a brick through your front window. Neil Sinclair had impressed me previously with his no-signs campaign, but he dropped out this morning to support Mary-Margaret McMahon. McMahon herself sounds like Rob Ford, right down to having a go-to pet project and using “respect for taxpayers” in her opening statement. I still don’t know much about Keith Begley after the debate, except he turned me off with his comment about cancelling harm reduction programs (the $80,000 “wasted” on cigarettes for the homeless). Bruce Baker wants expanded transit, but otherwise echoes Ford in wanting to stop the “waste” at city hall. Despite my previous post about my cat peeing on his brochure while I was out of town, I was impressed by Brad Feraday. His interest in socially responsible financial planning, although he didn’t get into any kind of details, and his knowledge of alternative energy technologies make him a candidate worth researching for me.
I’m still undecided, but now I have some direction. Thanks to the Danforth East Community Association and Kimbourne Park United Church for hosting the debate, and thanks to all of you who are making an effort to educate yourselves to make an informed decision on October 25th!