April 27, 2018

Meet Toronto's Bike Riding Mayoral Candidate-To-Be

With Doug Ford focused on becoming Ontario’s Premier and no high-profile progressives planning to run for mayor (yet), it seems Mayor John Tory is unopposed for this October’s election. His record leaves much to be desired given he supported wasting billions on the one-stop Scarborough subway extension and rebuilding the Gardiner Expressway, as well as opposed Transform Yonge (deferral notwithstanding). Fortunately, road safety advocates and progressives will have at least one candidate they can support – Sarah Climenhaga – whom I spoke with about road safety and other issues.

Why do you plan to run for Mayor?

I support Joe Mihevc – the local councillor in my ward – and he has been responsive to residents’ concerns, so I don’t want to compete against him. Since I lived in Ward 21 for the past eighteen years, I felt it wouldn’t be right to parachute in another ward, which rules out a council run. While my candidacy is perceived by many to be a long shot, I believe it’s extremely important to advocate for the causes I and so many others believe in, as well to present a bold vision for the city.

Given the high number of pedestrian deaths this year, what must Toronto do to accomplish Vision Zero?

Toronto needs to take evidence-based actions that will help protect vulnerable road users. Council deferred voting on Transform Yonge – including protected bike lanes and wider sidewalks – which I believe council must adopt after the election. I feel we need to move faster on protected infrastructure, given the Bloor bike lanes took so long to get so little. Finally, the process for making our streets safer – whether through speed humps or pedestrian crossings – is far too slow and we need to consider other measures that put safety ahead of vehicle speed. I am interested to see what comes of the city’s investigations into streamlining the speed hump process, but even that alone will not address all our safety issues.

How would your not-for-profit experience contribute to your candidacy?

In the not-for-profit sector, I advocated for change, learned about different urban policy issues, examined program data, and worked with boards and partners. Being focused on evidence and able to listen, collaborate and communicate effectively was crucial. These skills are important for leading a city of 2.8 million people and they relate directly to the work of committees which the Mayor and councillors serve.

Your city budget deputation identified several issues Torontonians felt were unaddressed. Why do you feel Council is refusing to act on these priorities?

There is a huge gap between the need to raise revenues and the commitment to limit property taxes. Too often, council adopts plans without funding them. The City did meet some commitments such as the two-hour transfer, but it is not city building. At the same time, they approved wasteful spending on the Gardiner Expressway hybrid & refused to perform a value for money analysis of the Scarborough subway extension.

From your conversations, how receptive did you find Torontonians to be on raising revenues?

Many of the people I interviewed agreed on the need to raise revenues. However, some are skeptical about property taxes despite them being low compared to other cities, which can lead to a catch 22. There is a need for residents to better understand and participate in the budget exercise, as well as ask for what they need. A commercial parking levy is a revenue tool I believe should be seriously considered, among others.

How can budgets and public meetings be made more participatory?

I’m interested in looking at recommendations from civic engagement experts like Dave Meslin to see what more we can do. Right now, people attend public meetings when they feel threatened, but meetings need to be more proactive and constructive. I believe we should respect the deputants’ time and offer the chance to participate earlier in the budget and planning processes. Content and public notices should be made clearer, while meeting times and locations should be convenient to help reach out to those who are less engaged or have language barriers. Finally, people need to see evidence their input is genuinely meaningful; not just done for the sake of a process.

What could organizing groups such as Progress Toronto do to make their work more effective?

I am excited by the advent of Progress Toronto and other like-minded groups. I am sure they will work together and inform each other to get positive change in the upcoming election. It’s always important to avoid duplication of efforts and work co-operatively towards a common goal.

Incumbents often have an advantage during Toronto’s elections. What can candidates do to become competitive?

Candidates should get out to meet as many people as possible and try to engage people who don’t vote, given voter turnout can be as low as 40%. I strongly believe that Toronto should switch to ranked ballots, which avoids the problem of vote splitting and does not allow people to win with 20% of the vote (or less).

How can people get involved with your campaign outside of donating?

While donations are extremely helpful for hiring people, printing flyers and other materials, and showing the media the amount of support a candidate has, I truly believe money isn’t everything. Mayoral candidates who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars can still lose!

The first thing people can do after May 1 is to spread word of my campaign on social media and in conversations with their communities. As a next step, volunteers can help knock on doors and organize neighbourhood events. I would encourage not-for-profit groups to give questionnaires with questions specific enough to give a meaningful indication of platforms and values.

Upcoming Campaign Launch

For those of you wanting to learn more about Sarah or get involved, I encourage you to check her website and read her recent post on visiting crash sites across Toronto. Her campaign will be hosting a launch party on Friday, May 4 – exactly two years since the Bloor bike lanes were approved – at The Pilot. You can get tickets on this Eventbrite page.

Happy door knocking!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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