The race for Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore might just be getting a little tighter than incumbent councillor Peter Milczyn would like. Since 2000, when he first won his council seat, Milczyn has comfortably won re-election twice, each time with more than fifty percent of the vote. This year however, the councillor is facing a strong challenge from Justin Di Ciano, a community activist and automotive and real estate executive with support from popular former Etobicoke-Lakeshore MP (Liberal) Jean Augustine. He’s also facing a last minute challenge from Morley Kells, a former Progressive Conservative MPP and Etobicoke councillor. And if that weren’t bad enough, Rob Ford’s campaign has suggested that Milczyn’s seat might be vulnerable.
The voters in Ward 5 have a variety of issues to consider when they head to the polls on October 25, including increased condo development, industrial stagnation, the upcoming plan to move the Mississauga bus terminal from Islington to Kipling Station, and the usual budget and tax stuff. But what’s quickly emerging as one of the key issues—largely as a result of Di Ciano’s campaign—is the state of The Queensway.
“The Queensway has great potential,” Di Ciano explained to Torontoist in an interview. “But it’s not living up to it…The Queensway can be that thriving place in the heart of our community.”
Geographically, The Queensway really isn’t at the “heart” of Etobicoke-Lakeshore: it’s on the ward’s very southern edge. But as one of the area’s only two major east-west arterial roads (the other being Bloor), The Queensway makes an integral contribution to the neighbourhood’s socio-economic character. As it stands, the Queensway, like many of Toronto’s communities, is currently caught between a declining industrial past and potentially gentrified future, with residents and small business owners stuck in the middle. And while hardly a dead zone, the street, as it extends from the Humber River in the east to Sherway Gardens in the west, could use a fresh coat of paint, more trees, and fewer illegal rub ‘n’ tug massage parlors.
When we last spoke with Di Ciano about his plans for The Queensway, we were interested in a poster outside his campaign office that suggested that he wanted to transform the street into a pseudo-Bloor West Village. But after talking with the candidate, we learned that the image was put up merely to represent what the street might look like with a little more pizzazz.
Di Ciano’s team has also been sending flyers to Ward 5 residents highlighting the street’s sex shops, rub ‘n’ tugs, and some of its decrepit buildings, with the message that only change will bring improvement. And in a more unconventional get-out-the-vote-style move, they’ve started driving around a large moose on the back of a trailer, with the words “Vote Justin Di Ciano” written in red and black. This season, it seems that the moose is the animal of change.
Not one to back down from a fight, Milczyn’s campaign has produced literature championing their candidate’s efforts to crackdown on body rub parlors and bring new developments to The Queensway [PDF]. (He’s still yet to pick an animal though.)
Surprisingly (or not), Milczyn’s and Di Ciano’s visions for The Queensway are almost identical: both want to see the street transformed into a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly economic engine (not unlike Bloor), and both feel that the area needs a BIA to tap into city-funded capital improvements for storefronts and streetscape projects. They both also cite the need for further development to grow the population base, better transit, a plan to attract more lucrative retail shops and restaurants, and fewer sex shops and holistic body parlors.
It’s only when it comes to the street’s current state that their views seriously diverge. Milczyn believes that The Queensway is slowly improving, while Di Ciano feels that new blood is needed to pursue a more focused effort—starting with the formation of a Queensway BIA.
According to Di Ciano, there have been two unsuccessful attempts to establish a BIA over the last twelve years—failures he squarely places at his opponent’s feet.
“When you start a BIA you have to learn to crawl before you can walk,” explained Di Ciano. “In the last attempt, the organization in charge of forming a BIA tried to form a BIA from Sherway Gardens to Park Lawn. That’s like running a marathon on your knees. We have to start small…Not only did our current councillor try to form a BIA that was too long, but it was too complicated. Trying to get the Best Buys of the world and the Canadian Tires of the world on board—that doesn’t happen, that’s not how BIAs work.”
Di Ciano’s strategy makes sense on paper: start small, gain access to city funds marked for capital improvements, and then expand later. But his plan still requires community and business leaders to step-up and commit the necessary time and resources, which, according to Milczyn, has been the main stumbling block.
“You try, you give it a breather, and you try again. I will try to get a BIA going, but it has to be something that the majority of the businesses on the street buy into,” explained Milczyn.
In addition to a BIA, both candidates want to improve transit service along The Queensway to increase pedestrian traffic and court more favourable businesses.
“Our councillor promised—election after election—to increase [TTC] transportation on The Queensway,” Di Ciano told us. “Now as commissioner of the TTC, we didn’t get our improved transit. So, either he broke his promise, or he was ineffective in lobbying the TTC to bring better transit.”
Milczyn refuted this claim, pointing out that the Queensway bus, which used to only run until 9:30 p.m., now runs until 1:00 a.m., and that next year, under Transit City’s bus plan [PDF], the route will move to frequent service on weekdays. Of course, cuts to Transit City’s budget could still potentially derail the plan.
Where the two opponents truly differ is on crime and its relation to The Queensway’s numerous and unsavory massage parlors. While they both feel that crime’s a problem, Di Ciano believes it’s getting worse, and if elected, promises to pursue a more aggressive night-time policing strategy.
“You have all these wonderful businesses that want to have pedestrian traffic come back to The Queensway, and you’re not going to get that as long you have an ever growing presence of massage parlors…The Queensway should not be known as the red light district of west Toronto,” Di Ciano told us. “All of the crime we have in the area is because of The Queensway,” and “more shops are opening up every year.”
So, are more illegal massage parlors opening up? Is crime getting worse? Not according to Toronto Police. We were unable to retrieve specific crime statistics for The Queensway, but we did examine Toronto Police Service’s stats for 22 Division, where Ward 5 is located, which reveal that per capita criminal offences in the area fell between 2002 and 2008 (information for 2009 isn’t available yet).
We also spoke with Inspector Doug Grady at 22 Division who told us that while “there is criminal activity along The Queensway” and illegal massage parlors are an issue, the area is experiencing the same drop in crime as the rest of the city. “I’m not overly concerned,” he continued. “I don’t know where they are getting their information that it has increased.”
Milczyn agreed. “I would challenge my opponent, or anybody else, to tell me that it is unsafe to walk on The Queensway,” he told us. “I am not going to say that there isn’t any, but you’re unlikely to see drug dealing on the street, you’re not going to see on-street prostitution, or muggings and assaults on the street. The Queensway is not rife with crime…I find it disturbing that someone is running down the neighbourhood, and making it sound so bad. They want to help it, but in the process they’re actually damaging it.”
While 22 Division’s statistics support Milczyn’s assessment, several of the nearby residents and business owners that we interviewed were less than satisfied.
“I think there’s more hookers on The Queensway than there was when I lived in Amsterdam,” David Crate, the owner and operator of Cellar’s Choice, told us, adding that he’d like to see “fewer body rub parlors” on the street.
Crime isn’t the only point of contention. The business owners and residents we talked to were also troubled by the street’s transit service, traffic, and overall look and feel, which several described as “dirty” and “getting worse.”
“Nobody really cleans the sidewalks up,” Bobby Sinharoy, the owner of Momo’s Bistro, told Torontoist. “It could be a beautiful strip, but people don’t want to come here to walk, because it’s not pleasant.”
Those concerns notwithstanding, it isn’t all doom and gloom on The Queensway. Worth noting: the area is improving by almost every economic metric that the City uses. Statistics from 1996 to 2006 (the last year the census was taken) show that the neighbourhood of Stonegate-Queensway has gotten wealthier, while the poverty rate has declined. Of course, stats never tell the whole story.
What is clear is that while The Queensway has improved in some ways, there’s still work to be done. And hopefully, after the election’s over, the street will continue to enjoy the attention it’s currently receiving, regardless of who wins.
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.
Get more municipal election coverage from Torontoist here.