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.

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.

Hurricane Hazel 60 Years on…

No matter what you’ve been told, strictly speaking, hurricanes don’t happen in Ontario. The fuel that keeps them going is warm ocean water and once landfall is made, they soon become extra-tropical storms and usually fizzle out with a bit of wind and rain – that is if they can actually make it all the way up here. Why then, sixty years later do we talk about Hurricane Hazel and its devastating effects on our neighbourhood?

Early in October 1954, a group of clouds that had formed off the coast of Africa began rotating and became a tropical storm. In the days before satellite monitoring of weather systems, there was a great deal less certainty about the path and nature of hurricanes during the June to November storm season. Back then, tropical storms and hurricanes were only detected once they came close to a populated area. This particular tropical storm was spotted in the Caribbean and being the eighth of that year, was by convention, given a girl’s name beginning with H; Hazel. She quickly strengthened into a powerful hurricane and sweeping through Haiti, Hazel took the lives of several hundred people. Then, dragged north-west by an upper level low pressure area sitting in the Mississippi Valley, Hazel made landfall in North Carolina on October 14th as a category 4 (out of 5) hurricane. Hazel was then expected to fizzle out and become a rain event but picked up energy from the low pressure area and set its sights on Ontario.

The track of Hurricane Hazel

The track of tropical storm (blue circles), Hurricane Hazel and extra-tropical storm Hazel (yellow triangles).

Again, before satellite tracking and computer projections, weather forecasting was something of an art. Although there was some warning about the approaching storm, Ontarians were unprepared for what was to come. Ominously, there had been considerable rainfall in the previous two weeks leaving the ground saturated.

On its way to Ontario, Hazel was re-classified as an extra-tropical storm. Even though its winds had weakened, it still carried a vast amount of water. Once over Brampton, Hazel combined forces with the Mississippi Valley system forming a new storm that stalled and unloaded its rain onto the already saturated ground. As night fell, the rain continued, putting pressure on the two major watersheds in the region, the Don and the Humber. It is estimated that a volume of water the size of Lake Simcoe fell on the Humber River watershed alone – and only one escape route – the Humber River valley.

As the evening progressed, flash flooding inundated low-lying homes along the Humber. Occasional ice-jams had caused flooding in the past but this was different. The water’s rise was rapid and relentless. By the time people realized that their lives were in danger, it was too late. In Weston, five people perished. On Raymore Drive, just across the river from Weston, a suspension footbridge blocked and diverted a torrent of water into the lower homes on that street and 35 people lost their lives. In one instance, in response to the rising water, a family moved possessions from one house to another only to lose their lives when both homes were inundated. A nearly complete list of fatalities is here.

Washout of the Lawrence Avenue Bridge in Weston, looking towards Scarlett Road.

Abutment washout: Lawrence Avenue Bridge in Weston, looking towards Scarlett Road. (TRCA.)

In the aftermath of Hazel, the forerunner of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority was formed and given the power to clear floodplain homes creating Toronto’s famous park and ravine system. Today, along with many Toronto communities, Weston is blessed with beautiful parkland and sports facilities along the Humber. Raymore Drive now ends at Tilden Crescent but the depressions of the former homes’ basements are still faintly visible in Raymore Park. Native trees and other rain absorbing vegetation are being planted and plans are afoot to remove concrete channels and replace them with natural riverbeds. Even though there is more paving today than in 1954, the disconnecting of downspouts from sewer systems, floodwater holding tanks and the encouragement of green roofs and driveways are techniques that will allow water to be absorbed into the ground rather than quickly drained into the river.

Mario Noviello (centre) assisted by Alan Tonks, Julian Fantino and Frances Nunziata.

Artist Mario Noviello (centre) assisted by MP Alan Tonks, Police Chief Julian Fantino and Councillor Frances Nunziata dedicate an artistic installation on the 50th anniversary of Hazel on October 16, 2004.

Most days, as in the past, the Humber flows gently through our parks and ravines. Even though 60 years have passed and measures have been taken to remove people from the path of danger, occasionally, as on July 8, 2013, we are reminded that no matter how well prepared we are, nature often has the last word.

 

YMCA at Weston and Lawrence?

Democracy is still in its infancy here in Ward 11. Another election has rolled around and with only three candidates running for Toronto City Council, it looks likely that incumbent Councillor Frances Nunziata will be handily re-elected. During a recent all-candidates debate held at Rogers TV, only Dory Chalhoub and Ms. Nunziata showed up. Candidate Jose Garcia did not attend.

The two candidates seem to share a right-wing viewpoint with the two of them expressing on the one hand a grim determination to keep taxes and tax increases to a bare minimum and on the other, bewilderment at the lack of infrastructure and transportation spending over the last forty years. On many occasions, Ms. Nunziata was able to handily swat down Mr. Chalhoub by exploiting his inexperience and absence at meetings of concern to the ward. With regard to their Mayoral preference, Nunziata is keeping her options open by cannily staying ‘neutral’ although she did allow that John Tory will be continuing the Ford agenda (unlike Doug presumably). John Tory is the choice of Dory Chalhoub.

One quote that stuck out from the back and forth came from Ms. Nunziata, who while citing her achievements declared that, “…at Weston and Lawrence we will be getting a YMCA.” This is the second time WestonWeb has heard the councillor mention this and we note she did not mention the word ‘might’ but used ‘will’. Perhaps readers can ask Ms. Nunziata for more details at the next debate on October 15th at the Mount Dennis Legion.

Ageless moderator Gord Martineau had an easy time keeping order throughout. The debate can be viewed here but Rogers seems to be restricting access to subscribers (login required).

 

Hopeworks Connection Celebrates Trillium Grant

Joel Reid, Denise Gillard and MPP Laura Albanese.

Soundcheck’s Joel Reid and Reverend Denise Gillard receive a Trillium Award plaque from MPP Laura Albanese.

Reverend Denise Gillard had some celebrating to do last night. After years of using older instruments for her youth based organization, The Hopeworks Connection, the Trillium Foundation approved their grant application and came through with a $14,100 grant towards the purchase of musical instruments. With this purchase, HWC is able to support the youth-led organization ‘Soundcheck’ in the Weston community. Through HWC, SoundCheck’s youth mentors are able to offer “Hear Me Play“- a program which provides personal development workshops and the opportunity for youth to work with experienced musicians and learn to play an instrument.

‘In the past, SoundCheck had to use HWC’s older equipment and rent instruments and it really cut into our fundraising for youth programming’, said Gillard. ‘This grant will allow us to do more with our donations.’

Hopeworks uses Weston Park Baptist Church as a base. Pastor Alan Davey was on hand to offer his congratulations.

Until the beginning of this month, Reverend Denise also worked at Frontlines but will now focus full time on her Hopeworks Connection.

MPP Laura Albanese presented Reverend Denise with the cheque and a plaque. Councillor Frances Nunziata also attended and offered her congratulations.

Interesting Mount Dennis article

There’s a fascinating article about Mount Dennis that was published in blog.TO on October 5. The tone of the article is mostly positive with many interesting observations but the comments that follow are equally interesting and reflect the dichotomy of opinions that currently swirl around our close neighbour. Weston itself gets a couple of mentions too.

Rick McGinnis toured through the neighbourhood and extolled its upside potential, saying

the main drag on Weston Road is only gradually shaking itself out of its doldrums and decay. In the meantime, day-trippers to the area can stake their claim to seeing Mount Dennis ‘when it was still dodgy,’ and perhaps shop for more house than they’d find in Parkdale or Leslieville.

He also walked through Weston, complimenting us on our nice houses and excellent fish and chip shop.

But an otherwise generally complimentary and sympathetic article was marred by a startling assumption about crime. McGinnis said:

“Here’s how to spend a day in Mount Dennis, from morning to as late as you feel safe” and “It’s not generally a great idea to be found on Weston Road after the sun goes down”.

Let’s be clear: he is wrong. Mount Dennis is very safe. In fact, it has a lower assault rate than any neighbourhood in the downtown core. It’s safer than U of T, than Bay Street—safer even than Toronto Island.

Read all about it here.