Big Red Wave – Epilogue


The official results from last night’s election are:

  • Apathetic non-voters: 26,743
  • Ahmed Hussen: 20,091
  • Mike Sullivan: 13,203
  • James Robinson: 8,394
  • Stephen Lepone: 1043
  • John Johnson: 887

Sixty two percent of the York South-Weston electorate voted which is an improvement on the 53% who voted in 2011. As can be seen, the largest group of people in the riding were the ones who couldn’t be bothered to vote. Whether it was ever possible to interest any of those thousands of non-voters in supporting Mike Sullivan is something that we can only speculate on. As Sullivan himself will attest, it’s hard to stand against a wave. Alan Tonks couldn’t do it in 2011 against Sullivan when Jack Layton powered an NDP surge that swept the country and now, with change being the operating word, the Liberals have roared back and astonishingly swept the NDP from all Toronto ridings.

Mike Sullivan was warned in WestonWeb over a year ago that the Liberals would be coming on strong for yesterday’s election. This was even before the selection of Ahmed Hussen as the Liberal Party nominee. Three Hundred Eight, the website that kept a running average of the polls consistently predicted a Sullivan loss throughout the campaign. No doubt, many in Weston will be saddened by Sullivan’s departure from Ottawa – after all, we had an MP living in the neighbourhood who knew local issues well and had earlier played a large part in promoting Weston’s causes when the UP Express was first proposed. Even though he wasn’t part of the government, he was a voice for Weston and York South-Weston as part of the Official Opposition. When floods struck the area in 2013, Sullivan organized events to support residents whose homes had been devastated. Mike has always been an approachable and friendly presence at local events and provided a welcome foil to the partisan activities of the other levels of government.

We wish Mike well as he packs his things and returns full-time to Weston. He will now be able to take a well earned rest and spend more time with his beloved grandchildren. We can only hope that our next MP will, as part of the new government make it his first priority to introduce himself to residents and be an effective and forceful representative of the people in his riding.

That is of course until the next wave comes along.

Vote – Canada depends on you.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Every four years or so voters get a chance to make their collective wishes known. It’s a privilege that the people of many other countries don’t share. Some citizens may think that their vote makes a difference but for example, in the United States and Cuba (to name but two), the choice is limited to a very narrow field and even a turnover of personnel often makes little difference to government policies and actions.

In York South-Weston we have two candidates from parties with a chance to unseat the current Conservative government – or the Harper Government as it likes to be known. Mike Sullivan is the NDP incumbent and Ahmed Hussen the Liberal challenger. Other parties are running but it is more than likely that one of these candidates will be elected.

Anyone with an impartial eye could probably see that over the past few years, the Conservatives have brought real change to the Canadian political process. It’s not just the nastier tone but a willingness to cheat and upset the democratic process far beyond anything that has happened in the past. Readers with the desire to read the gory details may read this long but excellent summation in The Guardian. Good luck staying calm after that article.

Along with the cheating goes a whole other raft of divisiveness and fear mongering but t’s the cheating that has allowed the Conservatives to be insensitive to voter reaction so it remains (in the minds of many) their most egregious behaviour.

There is, therefore only one possible action for citizens of this country and that is to get out and vote. You have a choice of two parties that, should they gain power, will not cheat you out of your future hard won votes. Whether the Liberals or New Democrats form a government after this election, we can be reasonably assured that politics will be conducted in a more equitable fashion. The same, unfortunately cannot be said if the Conservatives win.

It’s time for the citizens of York South-Weston (and indeed ridings all across this great country) to let the the Conservative Party, its members and even its volunteers know that cheating will not be tolerated by Canadians. The best way to do this is to deliver an overwhelming mandate to as many non-Conservative candidates as possible.

Get out and vote – it’s never been more important.

That’s all folks

The vision from way back. Some slight changes made along the way...

The vision from way back. Some slight changes made along the way…

The last community consultation over the Weston Hub was held Wednesday night and it seemed to be designed as a bit of a cheerleading session in the form of a snoozefest. Members of the Weston Village Residents’ Association (which has supported the project from day 1) seemed to make up a good number of the audience of about 100. Audience members seemed split between total support, support but concerned by the negative aspects and those opposed. It’s fair to say that a fair number in attendance seemed ready to swallow the negatives of a 30-storey tower, townhomes and a storage facility as the price to be paid for 26 live-work spaces for artists and some space for community organizations. Refreshingly, no major surprises were unveiled and one or two minor tweaks were announced that will improve things but the bottom line seems to be that the project is now a ‘go’ and will be presented to the Etobicoke York Community Council for approval in November and then to City Council in December.

In the question period, in spite of Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat’s insistence that the majority of people are overwhelmingly in favour of the project, several people spoke against it, some having reservations about the 8-storey building limit being set aside. Dan Harris wondered what new rabbit (e.g. storage) was to be pulled out of the hat. Another interesting comment came when a resident asked if Affordable Housing would consider allowing low income tenants to occupy the rental building if the developer failed to secure enough tenants (he hoped they would consider it). Developer Jack Winberg responded that there is every indication that the building will be filled by market-rate tenants. The affordable housing rep said he would look into it if approached by the developer.

The latest tweaks:

  • The fire route will now be along King and John Streets rather than through the ‘community space’.
  • Seven more parking spaces have been found as a result of a remnant area from the Toronto Parking Authority
  • The townhouse base of buildings along John Street will be adaptable to commercial.

The bottom line:

There will be a 30-storey rental apartment building and large storage facility. According to Ms. Keesmaat, the rental tower was never negotiable. The Farmers Market space will be smaller than the space currently in use. The storage lockers won’t provide much employment but won’t produce much traffic either.

On the other hand, the site will be attractively landscaped with a small (but perfectly formed) public area and there is a possibility that the Artscape portion will work and be a roaring success. Ms Keesmaat claims that the project is a special opportunity for Weston and a special effort to bring re-investment into Weston.

Only time will tell how ‘special’ it will actually be.

Selling off taxpayer assets.

This week (Monday) we will have a meeting concerning the land, some of which was donated to the town of Weston for what became Humber River Regional Hospital back in the 1940s. We will also have a residents’ meeting (Wednesday) to hear citizen input regarding the Weston Hub on John Street. In both of these cases, taxpayer funded entities sold or are looking to sell valuable public land to developers. The Toronto Parking Authority sold off the old GO Station parking lot with little fanfare and now HRRH effectively wants to sell its entire site to developer/s.

On the one hand, we have been told by Councillor Nunziata and others, it’s essential for a tower to be built as part of the Weston Hub on the GO site but according to Inside Toronto, she is quoted as being opposed to one on the hospital site,

“The people from the community are very concerned because it is an 11-acre site, it is zoned institutional and they were concerned the hospital was going to try and sell it to the highest bidder and build towers, residential, which they didn’t want.”

I would guess that those same citizens of Weston aren’t cheering about a 31– 30 storey* rental tower on the old GO parking lot but it looks like they’re getting one. Why is the HRRH site any less vulnerable? Answer: it’s probably not.

As the old saying goes, there is only one taxpayer. Why are (often hard fought) public assets compromised by the need for taxpayer funded agencies to raise cash? Surely our cities deserve better and more deliberate planning than this?

One more thing… Farmers Market traders have been concerned for a while that because their new site is so much smaller, they won’t have room for their vehicles. Superimposing the approximate new space allocation (black line) over a satellite view of the Market in full swing is quite telling and may explain traders’ anxiety. This much smaller space may work well with stalls selling selling pickled artisanal mushrooms and the like but it probably won’t be the same for many of our current traders who need their current freedom to spread out.

Farmers Marketl space allocation after the Hub is built.

Farmers Marketl space allocation (black line) after the Hub is built.

Parking may be an issue too as that will be in the lower part of the green space at the bottom of the image.

*Update: Etobicoke York Council minutes have changed (from the original agenda) to now state that the Hub rental apartment will be 30 storeys. Hopefully it was just a typo on the part of clerical staff.

Weston Treasures – Toronto Bell Cote.

The former St. Matthias church newly renovated.

The former St. Matthias church newly renovated.

There is a small white church on Scarlett Road (in Greater Metropolitan Weston) that featured large in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel. Then named St. Matthias Anglican, (the congregation relocated in 1957) it became a centre for community donations to assist victims of the disaster that killed and rendered homeless many people in the area. Even without that role, it has a fascinating history having been built in Malton in 1895 and was moved to its current location on Scarlett Road in 1923. Eighty years later, in 2003, the site was given Hertitage Site designation by the city thanks to the hard work of local historical societies. An application to have the site redeveloped as a townhouse complex came in 2004 but the City and then the OMB said no (demonstrating the worth of a heritage designation).

In 2010, current owners, the Sukyo Mahikari organization tried to have it demolished, justifying demolition with a report which stated that:

  • the building has fallen into disuse and disrepair, it has been neglected and is in a rapid state of deterioration
  • the foundation walls are on the verge of collapse, and there is an immense amount of energy loss given the original construction materials and methods
  • The building is a major eyesore in the community
  • When the application was made for heritage designation, critical structural and material analysis were not completed which would have revealed unsafe conditions
  • In order to maintain and rehabilitate the current building, the cost would be overwhelming

Details of its condition can be found here.

City planners recommended against demolition, and mercifully, Etobicoke York Council unanimously voted against the application. The group was told by then Councillor Doug Hoiyday to have a re-think and look around for grant money which they did – very successfully – and the rest is history so to speak. The costly renovation that has been done is very sympathetic and has ensured many more years of existence for the 120 year-old building and the preservation of a local landmark. The installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system will ensure low running costs for many years to come.

The Sukyo Mahikari organization has only one location in Toronto and this is it.

The sympathetic addition can be seen on the right.

The sympathetic addition can be seen on the right.

The church is one of 16 buildings competing for a Heritage Toronto Architecture award in the category of projects which “restore or adapt buildings or structures that have been in existence for 40 years or more, or are included on the City of Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties.”

The church is still working on further restoration and a major project will be to replace the bell that went missing a few years ago.

If readers would like to have a tour, one may be arranged by phoning 647-748-2683.

Hussen blows it.

The Federal election campaign has been running for, well, a whole campaign now and some strange things have been happening on the road to Ottawa.

Ahmed Hussen was the surprise nomination of the York South-Weston Liberals back in December last year. Many had expected YSW Liberal Riding executive Jules Kerlinger to be a nominee but he inexplicably withdrew from the race quite early and wouldn’t talk about it. Rumours were that he’d been invited to step aside by the Liberal Party but confirming those rumours proved elusive. Riding Association President, Ryan Ward was unable or unwilling to open up on the subject, referring me to Ottawa functionaries. Jules himself declined to respond.

Former Toronto councillor Bill Saundercook was then expected to get the nod but during the voting process, a strange turn of events took place. Large numbers of people came by the busload to vote and somehow, a bottleneck occurred at the membership and credential checking process. Late in the afternoon, with time pressing, organizers decided to close the polls before everyone was able to reach the voting booths. Outsiders shrugged and thought that this was simply business as usual for the Liberals.

Bill Saundercook.

Bill Saundercook confidently awaits the result at the nomination meeting.

The result of the vote that fateful day was a shock, not merely because a seeming long-shot had won but also because of the surprisingly small number of votes cast when compared to the huge numbers lined up – no doubt a result of the glacial pace of the voting line. The winner was a relative unknown, Ahmed Hussen but he had a well known local backer, George Smitherman.

As 2015 progressed, Mr. Hussen was seen at various events in York South-Weston and it was thought that his campaign was shaping up nicely. With a good tail wind from Justin Trudeau, he had a reasonable chance of winning the seat.

Moderator Judith Hayes listens to the candidates.

John Johnson (Green) and Mike Sullivan (NDP) tackle the issues.

There is usually one major debate in York South-Weston before an election. This is meticulously organized by an army of hard-working volunteers from one or more organizations in the riding who do what is necessary to hold a fair debate. Many of these people are politically active but not exclusively for any one party. On September 16, Mr. Hussen announced to organizers that he would not attend the debate. More recently, the candidate allegedly let it be known that he considered the debate to be partisan; skewed in favour of the NDP.

Moderator Judith Hayes listens to the candidates.

Moderator Judith Hayes listens to the candidates.

Knowing the scrupulous lengths to which organizers of these events go makes it clear that no party owns or controls these debates. To make the allegation even more fatuous, Liberal riding executive Jules Kerlinger was part of the proceedings and read audience questions to the candidates. Witnessing the event were former YSW Liberal MP, Alan Tonks and Liberal MPP Laura Albanese who would have quite correctly blown the whistle had anything underhanded been transpiring.

Jules Berlinger reads audience questions at last night's debate.

Jules Kerlinger reads audience questions at last night’s debate.

At this stage it should be mentioned that the Conservative Party candidate also failed to show up at the debate. This was neither a surprise nor much of a disappointment as it seems to be Party policy, especially in York South-Weston where the right-wing vote along with Tory candidates’ speaking skills are generally on the marginal side.

York South-Weston's democratic deficit.

York South-Weston’s democratic deficit.

One can only surmise that Mr Hussen’s sudden attack of shyness was not from a fear of entering some sort of NDP stronghold where he would be ambushed by frothing hordes of rabid lefties. The only conclusion that the public can come to is that he was woefully unprepared to respond to audience questions and decided to bolt. That alone is telling.

So much for the Big Red Wave. Thanks to Mr. Hussen, its now likely to be a trickle in this riding and YSW federal Liberals are facing four more years in the political wilderness. Perhaps the geniuses at Party HQ should have gone with Mr. Kerlinger after all.