Parting words from departing Toronto city councillors: ‘It is not for the faint of heart’

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Parting words from departing Toronto city councillors: ‘It is not for the faint of heart’


At Toronto City Hall, the packing up has begun.

Thirteen city councillors will not be returning to serve after Premier Doug Ford slashed the size of city council to 25 wards from a planned 47, and incumbents seeking re-election were forced to run against one another in last week’s municipal election.

John Campbell. says he has already “begun the process of looking for new employment.”
John Campbell. says he has already “begun the process of looking for new employment.”  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

Those who lost have already begun moving out of their second-floor offices, although the new council isn’t scheduled to meet until Dec. 4.

“I’ve begun the process of looking for new employment,” said John Campbell, who lost in Ward 2 (Etobicoke Centre) to Stephen Holyday by about 1,000 votes, and who was in his office this week sifting through papers on his desk.

Campbell is, however, eligible for severance under city rules — anyone serving 30 days or more is eligible for severance equal to one month’s pay for each year of service to a maximum of 12 months.

In all, 22 departing councillors, including those who decided not to seek re-election, are eligible for severance, which will total about $1.7 million, not including pensions and ongoing benefits.

The Star asked Campbell and other departing councillors to share their thoughts about what it is like to serve on council, the highs and lows of their time in office, and what advice they have for Toronto’s next government.

We distilled their comments, but the pithiest came from Lucy Troisi, on what it’s like to serve on council: “It is certainly not for the faint of heart.”

John Campbell

“I can honestly say that of all my colleagues, there was nobody I didn’t like. There was nobody I wouldn’t sit down and have a beer with,” said Campbell, who was first elected in 2014.

While Campbell thinks city hall functions pretty well, he believes it could be improved by removing television cameras.

“Part of the problem of why meetings took so long is certain councillors chose to speak on every issue and that often dragged the meetings out and would speak to make a point, but the point had already been made … I think if you took the TV cameras out of city hall, you would see the meetings speed up. And that’s not a bad thing.”

Joe Mihevc
Joe Mihevc  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star file photo)

Joe Mihevc

“I am getting my head around how a 27-year chapter in my life is coming to a close which means another chapter can begin,” said Mihevic, who lost by less than 4,000 votes to Josh Matlow in the Ward 12 (Toronto St-Paul’s).

He was first elected into office in 1991.

“There was no Plan B for me, it was all Plan A.

“I loved my time at city hall. I was never bored. It is a place where you build a city … I don’t leave with any bad feelings towards anyone.”

He said he is happy with the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. He thinks the city needs to keep working on poverty reduction, transit and community services.

“I sometimes fear we are going in the wrong direction. We’re doing a lot of bricks and mortar building, but I am not sure we’re paying enough attention to the human quality that makes neighbourhoods alive and vibrant.”

Jon Burnside
Jon Burnside  (Cole Burston/Toronto Star file photo)

Jon Burnside

“My low point was not being able to convince city staff that Thorncliffe, a neighbourhood of 35,000 people, deserves more than a second-rate community centre,” said Burnside, who lost to Jaye Robinson in Ward 15 (Don Valley West).

A former police officer, Burnside was first elected in 2014.

“The highest point was getting council and ultimately the province to endorse my idea of using photo radar. I think it’s the most consequential action the city has taken in over 20 years to make our roads safer.

“The city needs councillors elected at large who decide the big city issues. Currently, councillors are elected for local reasons but are expected to decide large city issues where there’s no real accountability.”

Lucy Troisi
Lucy Troisi  (Samantha Beattie/Toronto Star file photo)

Lucy Troisi

“To some extent, it is a relief,” said Troisi, of her election loss, adding that it is time for her to regroup before looking for other challenges.

Troisi was appointed to the old Ward 28 (Toronto Centre—Rosedale) in 2017, following the death of longtime councillor Pam McConnell. She lost Ward 13 (Toronto Centre) to incumbent Kristyn Wong-Tam.

“It was terribly exciting — the councillors are very much responsible for city building. Being part of that process even for just a year was very much a high,” said Troisi, of her time at city hall.

“Despite the rancour at times, late night meetings and seemingly endless debates and posturing amongst councillors, the city continues to be a well-run municipality. There is civility between the bureaucracy and the elected officials and it is that synergy between staff and councillors that generally comes together to move the city forward.”

Neethan Shan
Neethan Shan  (Eduardo Lima/StarMetro file photo)

Neethan Shan

“I am very worried about pockets of equity-seeking communities that are racially disadvantaged. Because (we now have) big wards with one councillor, the more organized and more resourced sections may get more attention, naturally, than the other ones,” said Shan.

A former school trustee, Shan was elected in a byelection in 2017. He was the first Tamil-Canadian councillor and one of five visible minorities on council. He lost to Jennifer McKelvie in Ward 25 (Scarborough—Rouge Park) by 154 votes.

“We have to do better in terms of diversity groups having a voice.”

He said he thinks Toronto needs to come up with a plan to support neighbourhood-based democracy.

Frank Di Giorgio
Frank Di Giorgio  (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star file photo)

Frank Di Giorgio

While the idea of term limits for councillors and the mayor has been batted about, Di Giorgio, who began his political career in 1985 as a councillor in the former City of North York, says that it can take three to four terms in office to fully understand the planning process, especially as it intersects with changing zoning.

Di Giorgio lost to Frances Nunziata in Ward 5 (York South—Weston).

Di Giorgio said he would like to see a review of the guidelines for Section 37, a part of Ontario’s Planning Act that allows developers to exceed height and density zoning regulations in exchange for benefits or cash.

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF





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