I want a mayor who can sometimes give a voice to the city. To express our aspirations, our vision of ourselves and the city we’d like to be. On some occasions, someone to channel our grief. On others, to properly express our frustration or anger.
Take the day we learned Doug Ford would be kneecapping the city’s government, disregarding the legitimacy of our election and, on a whim, overruling the results of a years-long process of local consultation and deliberation. It was a power play from a bully.
When John Tory stood up at a podium to respond, he sounded weak and noncommittal. He said he’d repeated to the premier “a number of times” that he “welcomed a discussion” about how the city is governed, but this process in the middle of an election was “not right.” He suggested a referendum. He said he was upset, but there was no particular indication of that emotion.
We know he is capable of displaying it, because later that day he had stood up in the city council chamber and bellowed at Mike Layton, demanding the progressive councillor to “stand up if you have the balls” and ask questions about what Tory knew and when.
Passion. It is often missing when Tory defends the city. It is most notably present when he is attacking leftist members of council.
The night before, then-private citizen Jennifer Keesmaat had already given voice to my own initial reaction. “Secession,” she tweeted. Not a policy proposal, obviously. But an effective, passionate yawp of frustration that a city so large, so important to the province and the country, could be treated this way. More power for the city should be a rallying cry for anyone who cares about it. Tory has, in fact, often complained he shouldn’t have to be like a boy “in short pants” begging the premier for crumbs. But Tory tried for a long time to seize on Keesmaat’s momentary expression of genuine, justified emotion and use it against her.
That was what led Keesmaat into the mayoral campaign in the final hour nominations were open — her rage at how Doug Ford had shown he intended to deal with the city, and her disappointment with Tory’s lukewarm mediocrity of a response.
I want a mayor with that passion. To defend the city, and speak for it, and build it.
Keesmaat called me one day in late 2014, after I’d written about how I thought we should speed up the King streetcar by getting cars out of its way. She told me she couldn’t say much at the time, but to stay tuned because she was working on something I might find interesting. It turned out, eventually, to be the King St. pilot project.
Tory, of course, would allow that project to happen — with Joe Cressy and Mike Layton, he would take ownership of it, and deserves credit for managing the politics of it among his own executive committee and closest supporters. who would dearly have liked to kill it. But Keesmaat worked on it for a long time, helped design it and manage the process behind the scenes and make it work.
Another example like that: how Keesmaat and her team convinced Tory to revive the Eglinton East LRT, which, whenever it is finally built, will do more to make life in that part of the city easier than any of the other transit proposals on the books. Now she’s talking about reviving plans for the Jane LRT, to the same end we should all hope for.
I want a mayor with that kind of vision for the city — not just someone who won’t always stand in the way of progress, but someone who is generating ideas and making them into reality.
I want a mayor who brings a sense of urgency to addressing the city’s biggest priorities, the relief subway line and affordable housing among them.
“We’ve always been a place where young people can see and imagine their dreams come true. And that’s no longer the case today,” Keesmaat said recently. We are becoming a city, she said, where many are left out or forced out. “C’mon, that’s not who we are. That’s never been who we are. How can we let that happen and not be outraged?”
I want a mayor who knows when it is time to be outraged. And one who can and will direct that outrage. “We can do so much better as a city,” Keesmaat has said throughout the campaign. I want a mayor determined to do better. I would like to see Keesmaat get the chance to try.
Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire