Compiled by Perry King and Emina Gamulin
The Gleaner asked you what questions you’d like the Ward 20 candidates to answer, and here’s what you came up with. Answers have been edited for space, and candidates are listed alphabetically, with the incumbent first. Roman Polochansky is also running but could not be reached for comment. He currently works as an adviser on technical policy and strategy support for HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria, and volunteers at the Toronto/East York Local Health Committee. Ken Osadchuk has been interviewed, but a photo was not taken. Osadchuk has been an Annex resident for over 60 years. He worked in the Toronto Star mailroom for 35 years. He would read everything he got his hands on, and spoke frequently to journalists about a slew of different issues. Now retired, Osadchuk is sick of the continuing backroom dealings that occur at city hall, and is running to “clean up the waste.”
“How are the candidates going to help the small businesses on Bathurst Street deal with the commercial landlords not complying with property standards?”
—Susan Oppenheim, owner of Java Mama (1075 Bathurst St.)
Adam Vaughan: We’ve done that in two ways over the last four years. One is cutting business taxes and providing affordability to a lot of the small, particularly family-run businesses. The second thing that we’ve done is we’ve doubled the number of BIAs. But as to how we get the licensing standards enforced, part of it is giving people options, part of it is when it is opened, it’s enforced properly. We’ve run programs with the BIAs, with the licensing inspectors, to provide educational platforms so people know what their rights are, but also know how to get enforcement. When stores have issues with landlords we try to bring the landlords and the owners together without getting into the position of having to fine people, but rather find a common ground to move forward. When I took office I think there were three BIAs in the ward; now there are nine, so we’re aggressively pursuing these … it works better when there is a BIA.
Dean Maher: We have to deal with the Municipal Licensing and Standards committee, and we have to deal with fake landlords, force them to uphold whatever standards [there are]. It’s all licensing and standards and bylaw enforcement. If those issues ever came into effect, I would hope that [Oppenheim] would contact whichever councillor was elected, and if the landlords are not helping her, then we use the office of the city councillor to enforce any regulations or requirements that are needed. When it comes to helping the business, there’s really nothing we can do to help with sales, but for the bylaw enforcement, that is something that we can help out with—so that everything is up to standard.
Ken Osadchuk: I really think that is a city problem, that they have bylaw enforcement officers to enforce the city bylaws. They can’t find the landlords to enforce it, there’s probably another company running it. If you can’t find the landlord to enforce the bylaws, it’s a problem … How are you supposed to find the landlord, who’s in Florida, probably. It’s a tough question because you’ve got to find the guy first, and hit him with these bloody notices to do this, fix this, enforce this bylaw. What does the city do? The city has the power to fix something, maybe put it onto their taxes, and seize the property for non-payment of taxes up the road if things get really nasty. Legally, they can, if they’re obstructing or breaking a bylaw. But really, where are these bylaw enforcement officers, I heard they hired about 60 of them. Where are they?
Mike Yen: It’s about talking together, it’s not about slapping new bylaws or slapping on fines. We need to ensure that the people are safe in these buildings, that there are proper codes in place. I don’t know if it’s an inspection problem or something like that, maybe we need to get on the inspectors and find out what was missing and what went wrong. Maybe it’s a matter of inspection, but if a landlord has not done what they’re supposed to do, the city should definitely jump in.
“A councillor’s effectiveness is directly influenced by his working relationship with his fellow councillors and the mayor. Please tell us how you would win the support of your fellow councillors and why you think they would accept your leadership and direction.”
—Neil Wright, chair, Harbord Street BIA
Vaughan: I haven’t lost a vote in four years, on any issue, even the most controversial issues. I have a strong working relationship with councillors in every corner of the city, on every side of the political divide. You cannot find a vote of mine that didn’t win easily whether it’s new restrictions on the club district, whether it’s heritage conservation status, whether it’s planning applications … every one of those initiatives have been supported at council. The only person who votes against my ideas at city hall is Rob Ford. Virtually every time I have a vote, it’s 35-1 or 44-1, and it’s unanimous when he doesn’t show up.
Maher: For that, I think I can work effectively with anyone. The main reason is that we all have one goal, to make the city a better place. I, personally, am never a person who gets affected by personalities. When I moved to Toronto in 1995, I started in the customer service industry … Personal things directed at me are not an issue. My ultimate goal is to work with people so there’s a cohesiveness, where the whole city works. When you take away personalities, everybody who runs for government—whether you agree with their ideas or not—they’re there for one purpose, that they have a calling, to make the neighbourhood a better place.
Osadchuk: They probably wouldn’t accept my leadership and direction, but you elected a leader, which is the mayor, and it would have to go to a vote—it’s a democracy, right? There would be a lot of “You pass my stuff, I pass your stuff”—that’s the way they’re doing it now. It can be done. If it’s a reasonable request, I don’t see any reason why anyone wouldn’t pass it … I’m sure you want to get things in your riding, I want to get things done in my riding.
Yen: I’ve been meeting with several candidates across the city and we get along great, we all want the same thing. We want to reduce the waste at city hall, to make sure small businesses are taken care of and have the ability to thrive. It’s common sense, and part of that is having a more open process at city hall.
“Residents of Ward 20 value the urban forest for the many environmental and social benefits it provides. If elected, what would you do in the next four years to maintain and enhance our urban forest?”
—Janet McKay, executive director of the Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF)
Vaughan: The tree protection bylaw is critical. The work that the Harbord Village Residents’ Association has done, where a tree census is being done, where every tree in the neighbourhood is counted, catalogued for species, evaluated for health, and a tree planting strategy accompanies it, is an amazing, amazing process … [I would] spread this notion of the tree census and get data so we know where trees are most vulnerable, so the replanting strategy starts now before we lose the canopy. I think the figure is that within 25 years, 40 per cent of the canopy will have died, and if we don’t start replanting that canopy now it will have disappeared forever. It’s a very different thing to resurrect canopies, you can sustain them with planting strategies but once you lose them—trees grow in a forest for a reason, they need each other for protection.
Maher: First of all, it wouldn’t be in four years, it would be immediately. I live at Front and Spadina, I live in a condo. Behind my condo, there are the railways—like directly beneath me. Air quality is a huge thing for me, and I want to see “pollution-fighting” trees planted throughout the ward. It does increase property value, and it looks pretty, but the main thing for me is for the air pollution. I am an asthmatic, and this year alone for the first time in ten years I actually was in the ER at St. Mike’s having a severe asthma attack—so the pollution is getting worse here. I want to see, especially with new parks, more forestation … That’s my personal barrier from another asthma attack at St. Mike’s.
Osadchuk: I don’t support that they remain, where they are planting trees, spending all that bloody city money on trees, and then encasing them in concrete where they’re going to die. They bloom for one year, and are replaced again the following year. You’ve got to give them some water. I went to buy some plants for my girlfriend. I asked them, “Do I have to water this thing, this mulberry tree?” She said, “We lost our water table; we don’t have a water table anymore.” It’s just bullshit, right? There has to be enough space around the tree so it has a chance to live. These trees are all going to die, the way it’s set up now. It’s too bad, it really is too bad.
Yen: There’s a lot of great initiatives going on right now. This program is happening and it’s working. It’s not a matter of what I’m going to do to change it, it’s let’s just keep it going. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
“What would candidates do to harness the power of neighbourhoods and what specific new roles could we expect neighbourhoods to play in initiating and implementing policies under your leadership?”
—Tim Grant, chair, Harbord Village Residents’ Association
Vaughan: When we reformed the planning process in the ward, we hired Ryerson students to do a planning program with residents and the BIAs to remap the ward and re-invision the direction in which growth in the ward should be managed. All of that was driven with the community and, as a result, not only have we got more predictable and better development, but also the developer now knows where neighbourhoods stand on issues. We haven’t gone to the OMB in four years, which is an extraordinary achievement that has saved the city about $8 million in legal fees alone … The reality is, the best ideas in this ward come from neighbourhoods. One of the things we talk about is the notion that we don’t bring our problems to city hall in Ward 20, we bring the solution to city hall.
Maher: My thing is about making Toronto work by bringing city politics back to the people and neighbourhoods. I want to see a city where the neighbourhood associations tell me the problems before they actually become problems. Where I live, there’s a traffic issue, especially around the intersection. Eventually, it’s going to come to an issue where it’s going to be brought to the city, there’s going to be enough complaints and so forth. Whereas I would like to see neighbourhood associations, or even a board of directors from a tower say, “We are noticing this issue, can we work to get this resolved?” If elected, my office can work on something before it becomes an issue … One thing I would like to do, if elected, is probably every quarter meet with the neighbourhood associations just to get an idea of what’s happening in the neighbourhood.
Osadchuk: So he’s talking about having a neighbourhood committee … If we’re not listening to the people in the neighbourhood and do what the hell we want, we shouldn’t be in office. That’s what happened on St. Clair. One hundred per cent somebody looked the other way, and let that go through because it doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s just so confusing, businesses are weeping. Something happened there, that is just—from something like $40 something million to $120 million. What the hell is going on there?
Yen: I’d like to get more people involved. Sometimes, when you go to these residents’ meetings, or these biz meetings, there are so few people that show up, and there has to be some initiative to get everyone there because otherwise you just get a small voice of the community. We’ve got to promote it more, let the people know, “Hey, this is important. This is what is going into your community, come out.”
“The city’s new bin-based garbage collection system is deeply unpopular in neighbourhoods such as ours where there is little room to store the bins out of sight. Stored in front, the bins have made our streets ugly all the time, and impassable on collection days. What will the candidates do to ensure less obtrusive garbage collection?”
—Tim Grant, chair, Harbord Village Residents’ Association
Vaughan: I didn’t support the bidding program, I felt it was a one size fits all solution to a problem that was better solved with technology referred to in most places as garbage bags. There’s been a lot of talk in this election that the suburbs feel that they haven’t been listened to; I can tell you, when it comes to garbage, the downtown hasn’t been listened to. We’ve been trying for two years to figure out how to get apartments over stores served properly. They can’t do it. We’ve been working to solve a couple of problems. One is to aggressively get garbage bags permitted in the downtown core and we’ve been enrolling houses and especially Victorian row houses to get this done. The second thing is that we think that the bins should be put on the curb so the sidewalk remains clear. It’s a problem when it comes to parked cars but we think the other side of the road is the spot to do it, you can just go down one side of the street. But use the road, not the sidewalk to store the bins.
Maher: To be honest, that’s something we have to look into and find other solutions. I don’t see how you can make those bins look any better, if you don’t have the storage for it—I’ve seen people put it on their porches. Maybe we could find more attractive looking bins. Maybe we could find more bins that fit into the outdoor landscape, the same way we have city furniture, where the furniture was ugly before so we got better city furniture. I can’t promise how to make them look any better.
Osadchuk: You know what I’d like to do, I’d like to get rid of all the goddamn furniture, and just have a garbage can. Just throw the damn bag out there. It’s such an easy thing to do. I’d look into it with the separating this and that, but I don’t think it works. You have to prove to me that it works. I can’t see recycling, all this stuff, working out. Maybe it does work, I don’t know. I definitely have to look into that. But, I am anti three garbage cans. Like I’ve said, where do you put these damn things? These people, they have properties with 15 feet in front of their house, they’re built right up like townhouses; where the hell do you put the garbage cans?
Yen: I think that was a planning disaster … We can’t have our streets looking like this. Toronto is a tourist destination for not only Canada, but for North America and the world. At all times, we have to make sure our streets look good. We have to design a new bin or have more garbage collection or have some sort of holding site built, but this issue has to be addressed.
“What are your plans to make the sidewalks in Chinatown more walkable? Will there be space-restrictions placed on street-merchants?”
—Karen Shay, OCAD student, resident of Chinatown
Adam Vaughan: We’re currently revitalizing Dundas. The goal is to create pedestrian capacity, a balanced street. There’s two things that are being dealt with there: one is more generous sidewalks which will create a more orderly vending, the second thing is, if you go to Scadding Court right now, you’ll see containers that ring the north side of the building, they are shipping containers that have been converted by a local architect with the support of my office and the community centre to create small vending opportunities that are more orderly and more structured. So we’re bringing order to the vending, we’re building stronger sidewalks through a public improvement program that we’ve financed, and we’re looking towards those improvements with consultations with [community] residents. There’s a group of illegal vendors who plug [an intersection in Chinatown], we’re looking to relocate that group into a sort-of market area near Scadding Court with defined vending booths instead of the informal way in which they present themselves now. It also includes a rebuild of the plaza in front of 52 Division.
Dean Maher: That’s a hard one to deal with because with Chinatown a lot of the business is actually street-friendly. It’s pretty difficult to increase [the size] because we have the bike lanes, roads, the dedicated streetcar lines. There really is no room to increase sidewalks. If it gets to a point where you’re actually walking out into the road, that’s something that needs to be brought to the attention of the city. Maybe we can look at ways of making the sidewalks more business and pedestrian-friendly. An example would be where they have the bins in the food market—where they sell fruits and vegetables—maybe we can make a requirement that those are more stackable, more shelf-like instead of having that protruding out on the sidewalk. Things are being put on the sidewalk for sale—which is not a problem, [but] we may move in a more vertical way than having it extend onto the sidewalk.
Ken Osadchuk: That is a big problem. A lot of people here on Boswell have cars parked out front. The city allows front parking, so they can increase the taxes, but then the people can’t get by with a wheelchair—especially in the winter. In the winter, people have nowhere to shovel their snow; the path is blocked on both sides of the street. I suppose in Chinatown, you also have vegetables and all kinds of stuff. It’s brutal. I don’t think there’s enough space for everything. I think it’s only going to get worse. I don’t know what to do about that. What do you do: say you have to send an army? Are you going to give tickets, and beat them back and say “You’re only allowed so much?” I would read the bylaw, to be sure. I think I would give them warnings to say, “Okay, this is as far as you can come out.” You would have to review that and I’d have to come out and take a look at it.
Mike Yen: Yes, Chinatown has been a big focus lately. I’ve been meeting with the leaders of the Chinese community to discuss this, and some of the police officers in the area. The thing is, the street vendors are the nature of Chinatown, and kind of what makes Chinatown. We need to ensure that Chinatown keeps its heritage, to ensure that shopkeepers are still able to sell their products, but of course, yes, there is an issue of pedestrians and making sure they get by. What I would do in that situation is I would reach out to the community, which I’ve done, and ask for a solution. One solution is setting up a small farmer’s market, where these individual stores can set up their tables off of the sidewalks, maybe in a parking lot or some public property. That way, they don’t interfere with pedestrians going up and down. It’s the Chinese community that really needs to discuss this and come up with a solution.
“Are there any plans to make car-free-zones in Kensington Market?”
—Karen Shay, OCAD student, Chinatown resident
Vaughan: We have made permanent Pedestrian Sundays and got financing for that, and are looking to build the infrastructure to do more. We also have spread the program to Baldwin Street to make Baldwin car-free on Sundays. There is a debate amongst the merchants in Kensington as to whether or not [car-free zones are] a good or a bad thing, and we’ll let the BIA bring it forward and expand the capacity. What we’re really doing though is south of Kensington, with the revitalization of Alex Park. We’re actually bringing Kensington and driving it south to Queen Street through a new parks system, and the new housing project. There’ll be new commercial opportunities including some of these not-for-profit commercial spaces for emerging artists to build a market environment in a neighbourhood that is already car free. You’ll have a car-free permanent market built south of Kensington to add to the capacity of the neighbourhood, but also to take advantage of the one car free neighbourhood we have in the ward and give it more commercial vitality.
Maher: I would like to see the car free zone extend through the late spring to early fall. When I’ve been to Kensington market during those Pedestrian Sundays, there’s enough foot traffic that could easily warrant a seasonal closure. The only thing that we need to take into consideration is that we need to make room for delivery trucks that move in and so forth. There would have be a certain time slot where people have to realize that the delivery trucks are coming. Usually, we can do it in the morning or the late evening and just give the afternoons to the pedestrians.
Osadchuk: There’s a hospital down there, city parking, a few cars parked on the street, you need delivery, so you need trucks down there. There’s a parking lot right in Kensington Market. It’s a lot of cars. That might not be a bad idea to make it a car-free zone, maybe try two or three streets in there. The problem is that people live down there, too. Where the hell are they going to park? It’s a tricky question because you’re not going to please everyone on that one, no matter what you do. If I was living there, I had my car there, and I had my room there, and then I can’t park there? I would just move out, even though I love it there. I could try it one street, where the park is. I think if they had more subways, they wouldn’t have all these problems. There wouldn’t be all these damn cars.
Yen: Oh, I would like to do that; I am all in favour of that. Pedestrian Sundays are great, and I guess that’s in part with Chinatown. I would like to see that in Chinatown as well. I’m all for those festivals, these pedestrian festivals where you shut down the streets on a Saturday and Sunday, and we can bring the people out there. It brings tourism to the area, helps local businesses, and brings vibrancy to the area that the residents also enjoy.
“What would you do to improve cycling conditions in our ward and our city?”
—Vanessa Ring, Annex resident, creator of the Annex-centric blog ringaroundthecity.blogspot.com
Vaughan: We started a Ward 20 cycling reference group and you can sign up for and participate in at my office. If you look at Harbord Street right now we’ve repaved the bike lanes and we’re strengthening the capacity through this area. Even though it’s not a continuous bike route, sharrows are coming in. Painted intersections and the city’s first bike boxes are coming in on Harbord to strengthen the bike capacity. The initial report on the Bloor Visioning Study recommended against bike lanes on Bloor Street. I worked with residents’ associations and the Clean Air Coalition to show the value of cycling along Bloor and we’re now looking at how to design and create capacity for biking on Bloor to complete the citywide bike lane. We changed the visioning study to accommodate that, as it’s an important piece of infrastructure. The other critical issue is the north-south flow, and in particular in the south end of the ward, because we have a lot up in the top end with St. George and some other streets. We’ve moved, I think eight bike lanes forward in this cycling plan.
Maher: We need to connect them, period. Second, I want to resolve this bike issue once and for all. It’s more of a safety issue, to me. Biking cuts down on congestion, the number of cars, it really is a safety issue … All bike lanes really do is they offer people a safe area where they’re not going to be hit by a car. What I would like to do is hire a private company just to go out there and out in those dedicated bike lanes, for every street. It doesn’t matter, we’re using them now and we need to put that in there. If the street is not wide enough for a bike lane, we need to put up a sign or something that informs people that this is now covered by a bike lane. If we can’t put a bike lane on a street, that we give drivers the option just to say this isn’t a bike lane street.
Osadchuk: I would have bike lanes, but they shouldn’t be on main streets. These people are going to get killed. Like St. George is good, I wouldn’t put them on Bathurst. I’d put them in the park areas, where you can bike without getting killed. I think this bike lane thing is not going to work. I remember when they first put the crosswalks in. The first thing that happened, they didn’t have the lights or the push button thing, and a little girl, I think she was five years old, got hit by a car. There’s a place for bike lanes, but it’s not Jarvis Street, because you’re going to have traffic congestion.
Yen: I’m not a cyclist, and when I started looking into this issue, I was surprised by how many cyclists there are. What shocked me even more is looking at the ward map of bike lanes, there is a huge hole in Ward 20; these bike lanes do not connect. We need to have continuous bike lanes. It’s for the safety of the people. I witnessed three cyclists getting carried off in an ambulance this summer alone, and that is just from walking the streets. It is a priority because people’s lives are at stake. If we have continuous bike lanes, that will solve the problem. Where to put them is another issue.
“Do you have ideas to help Bloor Street Annex businesses thrive? The strip seems to be suffering lately.”
—Vanessa Ring, Annex resident, creator of the Annex-centric blog ringaroundthecity.blogspot.com
Vaughan: We’re going to work with the BIA to try and find a diversification strategy for Bloor Street. Part of that is a redesign of the street, a vision for how to accommodate that. The second is fighting for tax relief. The caps on downtown businesses come off in this next term of council and we’ve got to fight the suburbs and re-establish those caps to make running a business affordable on Bloor Street. The BIA works with us to manage some of the negative impacts that large nightclubs are starting to have on the Annex. I talk to residents north and south of Bloor Street who are now afraid to walk on the streets Thursday and Friday night because of the behaviour of one particular business. So we’ve stepped up enforcement and we’ve really managed the growth of the liquor licence capacity on the street to try and stop the problem from getting any bigger.
Maher: I think the perfect example of a really great street district for business and everything is Spadina Avenue. It has streetcars, four lanes of traffic, bike lanes, a massive amount of pedestrian traffic, vendors that sell on the sidewalk. One of the things I am sure of is getting rid of one side of that street parking—not residential, street parking is street parking for them—on major thoroughfares. We really don’t need parking on streets because all it means is people take their cars, it causes congestion. We can even put more buses up and down Bloor-Danforth, in addition to the subways, to create a more of a pedestrian-cyclist throughway when you have that many people walking around there. Getting more foot traffic and cyclists is good for businesses, and that would be my focus for outdoor businesses.
Osadchuk: The subways, we have good subway access. I use it, but I don’t know. That’s [Bloor between Bathurst and Spadina] booming, isn’t it? I love that area, you can park your car there, and you’ve got all kinds of parking. I don’t think they need any help at all there. So, what is [Ring] talking about, planting some trees there, or something? A couple of stores did close, but I thought it was because of high taxes. I know the city had hit the small businesses with property tax increases, and now they just reduced them three parts. The businesses are taking off, they’re losing all these businesses, where I used to buy my ham and meat and everything. Those are owned by landlords and are rented out to people. She is saying that the businesses are suffering, I just can’t believe that. It must be the economy. I think it’s a great neighbourhood and it’s thriving. I don’t know how to improve it at all, it’s doing well. If anything, they have to reduce their business taxes.
Yen: In part, they are taxed far too high. Secondly, these new bylaws that have been initiated restrict their growth. Third, what are we doing to promote them? We need to promote them more, we need to make them destinations where people want to go. Let’s do a street festival, let’s put some money out there to promote tourism outside the city. It’s about promoting the local, small businesses. The businesses are crying that they need help, and somebody has to come in and help them out.
“How do the candidates feel about the way the Cineforum has been treated, i.e. its closure after Adam Vaughan praising its value?”
—Reg Harrt, Local artist, writer and Filmmaker
Vaughan: One of the ways you revitalize a business district is through lots of little space for culture to thrive. It creates almost a self financing marketing draw, people come to cultural activities across the city if there is something special happening and its why I’ve created 20,000 square feet of new, non-profit cultural space. I think this is how you create business environments that are healthy. Reg had a particular problem because he was in a house. Houses can sometimes be re-imagined and reused for that kind of capacity, but you’ve got to talk to your neighbour and he was running a theatre with no exits. The city gets nervous about that, particularly in Ward 20, with our rash of really tough fires. We tried to work with Reg to see if we could fix it, but he’s kind of a unique character. The reality is that what people like reg need is not a re-zoning, they need a non-profit commercial space. On the TIFF block, we put in 5,000 square feet of exhibition space for artists, as part of the film environment. Reg’s spot was a particularly difficult location and as much as I value his film library, there are fire regulations that have got to be met, because what we see in these older areas is that when one building goes up, it takes five or six with it and it’s just not something that as an elected official you feel very comfortable turning a blind eye to.
Maher: We need to go by the municipal bylaws. That’s the main thing. We need to look at when he actually started his business. Maybe he didn’t realize it’s been open an x number of years, or this turned out to be a small business where people do it out of their home. I want to go by the book when it comes to municipal bylaws, and then in these specific situations, these will be what I consider “one-offs,” look at this one individually and see what would be the impact on neighbours, on the residential [zone]. When you are on Bathurst Street, you can call it residential, but Bathurst is pretty much commercial, regardless if you own a house or not.
Osadchuk: It’s a total abuse of power, that’s all it is. You should just leave the guy alone. They’re doing it just because they can, it’s the same bullshit when some kid is flying their kite in the park and the city bylaw officers comes over and tells him they cant fly their damn kite. All of a sudden, you give these guys a little power and they become little dictators, they’re totally out of control. I’d tone the bylaw officers down for sure [and] quit persecuting these people.
Yen: I fully support our local entrepreneurs like that. The film industry, especially the local film industry, I’m really pushing. You have a small operator like this, who is willing to screen films and give exposure to the local filmmakers, I think that is awesome. If there’s some silly law in the way, it’s the law that needs to be removed—unless, it’s an issue that the community doesn’t want it to be there or there’s a safety issue. If he is running a safe operation, where people can watch the movie and there is not a brick falling on their head, then awesome. If the community wants it there, and you enjoy the films, then let’s do it. Supporting local independent films is done at the grassroots level and it’s amazing. If there is some stupid law, I would get rid of the law.