My endorsement for councillor

Let’s start with this: Frances Nunziata is an excellent retail politician. If you call her, she will call you back. If you need something done, she’ll get it done.

But Weston has been suffering under her watch. Stores along Weston Road are struggling. Transit is gasping. We seem to be in a constant state of construction and disruption, and our town is getting very little out of work that will benefit everyone but us. Something is wrong.

And though this is not entirely Nunziata’s fault (she did not invent the digital camera that killed Kodak), Nunziata’s politics are not helping.

Frances—can I call her Frances?—is part of Ford Nation. She believes in subways, cars, and low taxes. She believes in business, the little guy, public-private-partnerships, and small government. And these are good things. Except for Weston.

They’re not what Weston needs right now. Weston needs public infrastructure and public goods. These are things that increased taxes buy.

What kind of public goods? Things that will make Weston a more pleasant place to do business and a more delightful place to live. Off the top of my head:

  •  Childcare
    • A city-subsidized childcare would make this a more desirable neighbourhood for young couples. We used to have one.
  • Functioning, funded transit
    • Buses, buses, buses. Bus infrastructure. Express buses. Articulated buses. Decent bus shelters (why do we wait outside in the winter?)
  • Bike paths
    • Join the Humber gap, create safe bike infrastructure to get to the GO, and build a bike path along Wilson to join North York and Toronto.
    • Build a path south to the Junction and Bloor. It’s impossible to get there now by bike.
  • Public art
    • Work with the BIA to make Weston Road lovely again
  • Trees and parks
    •  Trees along Weston Road and Jane Streets would calm traffic and noise and create a nicer pedestrian environment
    • The dilapidated houses on Weston must be expropriated and demolished.
  • Indoor community spaces.
    • A YMCA would be great, but let’s start small. There are no community programs at schools in Weston. Why not? The Elms and Amesbury have them. Weston could too.

These require taxes, government, patience, and cooperation. These are not the beliefs of Ford Nation.

You might then think that Dory Chalhoub would be my endorsement.

He is not.

Calhoub has guts. He’s running on a shoestring budget against an entrenched opponent. He shows up, he campaigns, and he tries. And he ought, above all, to be commended for that. I salute him wholeheartedly for his noble, and Quixotic, campaign.

But I cannot endorse him.

While Chalhoub he has put himself forward as the person to fix the riding he, too, appears to be fiscally conservative, and as long as he thinks that we can fix our problems without working together—and that’s just another way of saying “taxes”—then he is mistaken.

He has no experience. Chalhoub says that every new candidate starts off without it. True. But other candidates prove themselves in the minor leagues before trying out for the majors: Chalhoub, as far as I know, has not been much involved in the riding, certainly not in Weston or Mount Dennis.

Dory—can I call him Dory?—also lacks vision. He did not respond to PositionPrimer or InsideToronto to give details about his platform. (Nunziata did.) Dory did not even disclose which mayoral candidate he would back—surely the shortest cut to a platform he could take. His website is incomplete (the links to his policy pages are broken), he has no social media, and even the photos on his website are clipart: in this beautiful town, he chose a picture from Hamilton to represent neighbourhood beauty.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s running on a very simple platform: “Not Nunziata. But close.” The lack of policy could be intentional. Like staring at clouds, we can see what we want to.

Our choice, then, is between two unsatisfactory candidates, neither of whom seems to have a long-term vision for Weston.

I cannot endorse either.

Municipal Election Viewpoint

Voting will take place in a few days and the campaigns for Council and Mayor will soon be history. The endless campaigning has produced a few surprises, one of which was the collapse of the Olivia Chow campaign. Before nominations opened, the Mayor’s job was waiting for her and the campaign seemed a formality that would end with an inevitable coronation. At the end of last year, my wife and I saw Ms. Chow lose a crowd of ardent supporters after speaking for only a couple of minutes. As she rambled on, the crowd began to murmur and my wife (who has an annoying habit of being correct) confidently predicted that Ms. Chow’s charisma shortfall would result in an unsuccessful campaign. The collapse of support for Ms. Chow has disappointed many who are leery of John Tory and more particularly, Doug Ford. While Mr Tory is undoubtedly a decent man, his natural inclination leans towards business interests and his ideas on transit and transportation are poorly thought out. It seems likely he will win as the alternative spectre of Doug Ford makes a vote for Olivia too risky for many. The Provincial Liberals have committed themselves to implementing ranked balloting which will finally eliminate the need for strategic voting in the future. For now, John Tory is probably the safest candidate to choose.

In Ward 11, WestonWeb was despairing that any candidates would step forward to oppose longtime incumbent Frances Nunziata. Eventually a couple signed up, Jose Garcia and Dory Chalhoub. These two unknowns were seen as incredible long shots against the veteran of several successful campaigns stretching back decades. One candidate has used the long period of campaigning to his advantage; Dory Chaloub, whose confidence has grown as his talking points have resonated with voters. In particular, Mr Chaloub is articulate and has been able to connect the dismal state of the ward directly to the inability of Ms. Nunziata to lift York South-Weston out of its deep and decades-long malaise. In addition, Ms. Nunziata’s increased profile as Council Speaker has exposed her flaws to a wider audience. Although there is not much to choose from politically between the two, Mr. Chalhoub understands that York South-Weston needs change and is not stuck in denial about the status quo. He has a background in business and seems intelligent and assertive enough to deserve a chance. Ms. Nunziata sees no problems and therefore seeks no solutions. Her political ambitions lie in city hall; focussing on improving York South-Weston only gets in the way. It’s time for a change.

Santa needs helpers

The Weston BIA is looking for helpers for this year’s Santa Claus Parade.

They’re looking for marshalls, costume characters, traffic wardens, and banner carriers. Your efforts at the parade count toward your high-school volunteer hours, and will get you on Santa’s Nice List.

If you’re interested, contact Marion at (416) 249-0961.WE NEED VOLUNTEERS FOR parade

Star does not endorse Nunziata

The Toronto Star has endorsed Dory Chalhoub, not Frances Nunziata—although it is clear they seem him only as the better of two bads:

With almost 30 years in local politics, incumbent Frances Nunziata (open Frances Nunziata’s policard) has lingered far past her sell-by date. Painfully ineffective in recent years, she has been one of council’s most complacent Ford followers. Dory Chalhoub, a young entrepreneur, is energetic to the point of being brash. We disagree with some of his policies, such as his support for a casino, but this ward needs a dose of vitality. Chalhoub gets our nod.

Nunziata: Weston is a good, vibrant community.

This is a summary of the October 16 debate at Mount Dennis Legion held in front of about 50 spectators.

Only two candidates were present, contender Dory Chalhoub and 26-year incumbent Frances Nunziata. The debate started with a bit of gamesmanship from Nunziata who delayed her opening statement to ask for a moment of silence for the victims of Hurricane Hazel. A more sincere approach might have been to involve the other candidate rather than using the anniversary to score points.

Dory Chalhoub (centre) and Frances Nunziata

Dory Chalhoub (centre) and Frances Nunziata

With the tone set, Ms. Nunziata proceeded with her opening statement. She feels that the ward deserves a dedicated councillor who puts the needs of constituents first. She has consulted on issues with residents over her 26 years of service. “There are lots of good things happening and it bothers me that all this negativity is there”. “York South-Weston is a good community and vibrant”.

Dory Chalhoub thanked his supporters and said his candidacy gives voters an option. He feels the area is neglected and dilapidated and the person responsible over the past quarter century has been Councillor Nunziata. It is time for a change – the abysmal status quo cannot go on with crime, the business exodus and so on.

Audience questions then explored further differences between the candidates. One obvious area is that of experience. This is Chalhoub’s first run at the job and naturally he’s vulnerable to the criticism that he’s not up to speed on local politics. The first question addressed to both candidates about the naming of and familiarity with resident groups seemed designed to trap the challenger and expose his novice status. While Nunziata was able to name them, Chalhoub confidently turned it around and said, “That’s her job and it’s expected of her”.

Both candidates did agree on the need for subways rather than other forms of transportation – Nunziata would find money through development charges while Chalhoub would find efficiencies. Both are coy about their choice for mayor, would have liked to have seen a casino; both like privatization within limits and are opposed to tax increases.

Another bone of contention between the two was the lighting art installation at Weston Road and Dennis Avenue. Chalhoub feels the money could have been spent more wisely while Nunziata defended the project.

With regard to priorities, Chalhoub would like to see the area cleaned up and aesthetics improved. He would like to see incentives for businesses to open and create jobs; access grants and put the money back into the community. In response to criticism of him being negative, his answer was, “Step outside and see what’s going on. I don’t see this ‘vibrant community'”.

Nunziata outlined a number of projects that are ongoing thanks to her involvement – the Humber Hospital Church Street site, the mobility hub at Eglinton and Weston – “Once the mobility hub comes in, stores will open”. “How can you be negative about our community?” On the subject of a YMCA at Weston and Lawrence, unlike during the televised debate where she claimed it was happening, now she says that negotiations are taking place with YMCA and the church (Weston Park Baptist). (I could be wrong but I believe those negotiations fell through a couple of years ago.)

In closing, Chalhoub stated that his decision to run is personal rather than political. He will work hard to provide better direction and leadership. He said that if insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the results to be different, that’s similar to people who think somehow the next four years are going to be better with more of the same.

Nunziata ended by saying that she represents all of Ward 11. In the past 26 years and in particular the last four, she has spearheaded projects such as the York Recreation Centre, obtained $1.5 million from Metrolinx to go towards a cultural Hub on the site of the Farmers Market and is working to change the proposed use of the Kodak Lands from a rail yard to a more mixed use. She has established an off-leash dog park in the Hydro corridor in the south of the Ward and is working towards another on King Street. She feels she has gained the respect of her constituents.

While there is no love lost between these two candidates, their platforms are both quite similar and somewhat on the right of the political spectrum. Where they differ is in their perception of what is happening in Ward 11 and in particular the Weston / Mount Dennis / Rockcliffe Smythe communities. Ms Nunziata would have us believe that things aren’t so bad under her leadership and tomorrow will be better. Mr. Chalhoub thinks a lot more work needs to be done; it’s time for a change and he can do better.

We’ll find out on October 27. Let’s hope for a good turnout.

Public and Separate School Trustee Debates

Last night, candidates for local Trustee and City Council squared off in the Mount Dennis Legion Hall on Weston Road. The debates were jointly organized by the Mount Dennis, Rockcliffe Smythe and Weston Community associations. The evening began with a debate between two of the five Public School Trustee candidates, Kevin Milburn and two-term incumbent Chris Tonks – for the benefit of about 20 people. The debate was cordial with the two candidates respectful of one another.

Moderator Judith Hayes, Kevin Milburn and Chris Tonks

Moderator Judith Hayes, Kevin Milburn and Chris Tonks

Paralegal Kevin Milburn’s views on education seem to be mainly through the prism of his volunteer work at H.J. Alexander P.S. and says he has spent thousands of hours observing what goes on in the school calling it a model for others. Milburn was able to point to some of the recent scandals at TDSB calling the organization ‘somewhat dysfunctional’ and objects to having ’20 school superintendents all making over $100,000′. He feels that the board could get by with fewer superintendents, claiming that principals and vice-principals ‘don’t need as much supervision’ but instead they need mentoring. He also feels that there is too much red tape and insurance requirements getting in the way of community access to schools after hours. He would get rid of the Board’s permit program and use Toronto’s Parks and Rec to organize after school activities. His three top priorities are fiscal responsibility, student success and infrastructure repairs.

Lawyer Chris Tonks feels that the solution to school excellence and low minority graduation rates is a ‘great principal’. Unlike Milburn, he believes that the Board’s scandals have been taken care of, ‘people have been terminated’. He would like to see all elementary schools revert to a JK – 8 format to foster greater student involvement and attachment. He agrees with Milburn’s criticism that it is more difficult for communities to gain access to schools after hours and offers the suggestion that other levels of government should contribute to after-hours programs. He says that since amalgamation, boards have moved away from people and feels that ‘perhaps we should break down our Board’ into smaller components that would be more responsive to community needs. On the topic of fundraising, Tonks acknowledges the disparity faced by schools in a poor demographic area and allows that there is a need to find ways to increase funding for these schools. His three top priorities are financial integrity, investing in schools and after school programs.

In between the trustee debates was the City Councillor debate which is dealt with in a separate article.

At the end of the evening, only one candidate, Frank D’Amico was present for the Toronto Catholic District School Board Trustee debate so the format became question and answer.

Frank D'Amico

Frank D’Amico

A serving member of the Army Reserve, 7th Toronto Regiment, D’Amico feels that funding is the number one issue facing the TCDSB. He feels that even though funding is supposed to be the same as that in the Public Boards, in practice, ‘We get a little bit less’. One of his fears is that if budget problems aren’t tackled, the Province might take over the Board’s financial affairs. D’Amico says he really enjoys being a trustee and visits schools in the Ward as often as he can as it helps him be better informed. On the role of trustees in advocating on behalf of parents, he feels that he should listen to parents, bring any issues to the board and report back. His top priorities are balancing the budget and ensuring that St. John the Evangelist school gets built.