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Jane Farrow’s Bold Council Bid

Urban activist and author Jane Farrow explains why she's not afraid to ruffle some political feathers.


Jane Farrow has never been afraid of starting difficult conversations. During her career the acclaimed author, journalist, facilitator, and community organizer has taken on polarizing development issues and free-speech battles, and advocated strongly on behalf of the LGBT community.

Her professional and civic CV is eclectic: she traces her roots to the queer cultural campus radio community; she was the founding executive director of Jane’s Walk, the urban pedestrian tours named after beloved urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs; in the 1990s, she wrote the delightfully titled column “Sonic Pantsuit” for the queer publication Xtra, which led to her decade-long employment at CBC radio producing segments for programs such as The Sunday Edition and This Morning. Farrow’s quick wit, community organizing skills, and passion for storytelling have won her much respect, particularly in Toronto’s progressive political community.

Yet this week, Farrow ruffled feathers by announcing she would run for the Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth city council seat, which is currently held by lefty representative Paula Fletcher. Many progressives have criticized Farrow right out of the gate for challenging a perceived ideological ally and giving right-leaning candidate Liz West, who lost narrowly to Fletcher in the 2010 campaign, a better shot at victory.

In an interview at her home near Broadview and Danforth yesterday, Farrow addressed fears that she and Fletcher might split the progressive vote. Her candidacy makes sense, Farrow argued, given Fletcher’s 25 per cent decline in votes and near defeat in the 2010 race. “I think the current councillor is going to lose the seat, and I felt it imperative to step forward and give people a progressive option,” Farrow said. “I don’t think that their other choice in Liz West is progressive. That’s not vote splitting—that’s vote getting.”

She wants to bring her listening and consensus-building skills to council. “I believe I’m a bridge-builder. At City Hall, there’s a hundred different ways to get things done, and it’s not all along party lines—in fact, that may be the least useful way to approach things,” said Farrow. (Fletcher has longstanding ties with the federal and provincial New Democratic Party.)

And many difficult conversations, she believes, will need to be initiated in Ward 30—including one about a potential Downtown Relief subway line that could run through the area. “That’s a hard conversation, but if we don’t have it, we’re not going to get it, or we’re going to get a version of it that we really don’t like or don’t understand,” Farrow warned.

But she feels her extensive experience in facilitation and community consultation—which includes the founding of the Active 18 residents association—would serve her well when confronting such challenging and critical issues. “What’s important is … constant contact with the people you represent,” said Farrow. “That kind of informal social connection that weaves you into the community—that’s what good representation is really based on.”

Farrow rejects the notion that extensive political experience is necessary for political success. Her brief stint working as executive assistant to Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York)—during which she helped develop the Toronto Urban Design Guidelines for Queen Street East—showed her how effective neophyte politicians can be. “Frankly, that’s the best and strongest protection that Queen Street East has ever had, and it was done by a rookie councillor, and rookie staff,” Farrow insisted. In reference to Fletcher, Farrow added, “This whole bogeyman that you have to be around for 10 years in order to deliver? Not true.”

She says her time in McMahon’s office also gave her insight into resident frustrations with City services. “People really do care, even though they’re irritated with the state of politics right now. Even the grumpiest person calling about their garbage that didn’t get picked up, underneath it you can hear that they really care, but that they don’t feel heard.”

At the same time, Farrow was critical of the notion that elected officials and their staff can and should personally address every resident concern. She chastised Mayor Rob Ford for encouraging residents to call him directly, instead of using the City’s 311 service, when they experience problems: “That philosophy is contributing to an illiteracy about how cities work,” Farrow said.

The seemingly fearless Farrow did admit she worries about the often polarizing nature of council votes. “On some issues, I know it’s gonna be really hard to reduce it all to a yes or no vote. The journalist in me says it’s never that easy.”

Nevertheless, she promised to approach the upcoming campaign with the same zeal and sense of humour that has endeared her to many Torontonians. “I have a bit of radical informality … I mean, I’m a mannish lesbian—that alone could freak out some people,” Farrow chuckled. “But I feel that humour is a way to say, ‘Let’s talk, but can we not make it all life or death? Let’s just be human.’”


  • NYCBoy2305

    I think she is a little too full of herself. Her twitter heading is: “Independent. Progressive. Fabulous.” Really? Paula has served the people and will be returned!

    • OgtheDim

      Whenever I hear somebody say “X has served the people.“, I get the strange feeling somebody is trying a little too hard to sound like they are not from the office staff but can`t help themselves from being overly enthusiastic.

      Love that explanation mark ya put in there btw. If Fletcher wins, will she wade out from a Landing Craft like a later day Douglas MacArthur?

      • NYCBoy2305

        Nope, not office staff. Long-time Toronto Danforth resident.

  • Squintz

    Her logic for running is also incredibly confusing. She feels that Fletcher is poised to lose the seat based on the 2010 race, so she will run to save the ward from the looming threat of Liz West? How does that even make sense. Even if the previous race is any indication of how this election will turn out (IMO it isn’t, 4 years ago, completely different political climate, really not much to complain about Fletcher’s most recent term) wouldn’t Farrow’s “vote getting” mostly come from Fletcher supporters and not the right leaning West camp?
    Why not run in Ward 29 against Fragedakis who has accomplished nothing and doesn’t have any significant opponents instead?

  • knotsing

    The person happiest about this column? Liz West. The race was too close for comfort in 2010. Paula Fletcher has been an excellent Councillor. Vote Fletcher.

  • Mike from Canmore

    Liz West rode the Ford wave last time. Electoral climate this time is much different. I think progressive candidates will have a significant advantage.

  • ShabbaRich

    I think Paula’s imperious ways have rubbed too many people the wrong way over the years. Maybe her former Communist affiliation lies deeper than we think. Jane Farrow would be much more inclusive and consultative. She’ll take the creative class vote away from Fletcher and the lesbian vote from Liz West.

    • NYCBoy2305

      “Creative class” is exactly what I thought! Pompous, self important, parasitic,

      • OgtheDim

        I’d say calling those who consider themselves part of the creative class parasites is a Fordian slip.

        • TheSotSays

          Some might call it a factual reality.

      • mytwocentsworth

        Is it really fair play to ^ your own comment?

  • Better_Canada

    You don’t need to spend too much time at City hall to see that Fletcher, Davis, McConnell are as much a “part of the problem” as the Fords & Mammo…all are guilty of acting like Toronto (and especially their “sacred” wards) haven’t changed in population, demographics or need since 1998.

    It’s good to see someone smart and with less-baggage take on Fletcher in
    this ward, and would be happy to see the same happen in Davis and
    McConnell’s wards too.

    Since we don’t have Term-Limits at City Hall yet, we need to find another way to re-set the process.

    For the Dogmatists – time to accept that this isn’t about “Teams” and the “Sharks VS Jets” in the Rotunda…It’s about “Improving-Today VS Historical-Grudges”.

  • nevilleross

    To be frank, I think the DRL needs to be put on the back burner, and other things dealt with first, as was mentioned in a previous article; I wish that most of the people running for election, including Ms. Farrows, could do that.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      The DRL has been on the backburner for over twenty years.

      • nevilleross

        And it needs to be rethought substantially anyway; a set of LRT lines could be built for half the price of a DRL, and probably relive congestion better than a DRL (in fact, a LRT line could be built coming from the suburbanized parts of Toronto that runs under a tunnel for half the time it’s going to the downtown and back again, and when it reaches downtown come up to the street and runs on the streetcar lines [King, Queen, Bathurst, St Clair, etc.]!) There are other things that are just as pressing as having a new choo-choo to ride up and down just because that’s how it’s been done in the past.

        • Chris2812

          you’ve got it all figured out.

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          An LRT’s rider capacity tops out within spitting distance of projected peak useage of the DRL, meaning there is little room for a “DRLRT” to absorb new riders in the coming decades. That would delay rather than solve the problem and leave the city with an LRT it needs to convert to subway, or looking at building a second line to relieve the first. Unlike Scarborough and Finch West, there are rider numbers to support the DRL as a subway.

  • GratitudeBag

    Excited for Farrow’s candidacy. As a lifelong Tor-Dan resident, Fletcher has not shown any ability to compromise with different views or really cause a stir in municipal politics. She simply tows the NDP line. Local politics deserves representatives who can think and act independently, not ones who thrive through deep connections to communist/socialist parties.

    • Squintz

      What different views do you mean, do you have a specific example?
      The current political climate and makeup of council really doesn’t lend itself to cooperation, discussion of differing views, or compromises, whatever you want those vague terms to mean. We have Ford Nation or moderate progressives with a mushy middle mostly made up of careerists playing cynical popularity games.
      Is she supposed to compromise to radical austerity policies both she and her base oppose or empty populist rhetoric like “subways subways subways” or “stop the gravy train?” I’m not sure where you think she has gone wrong.

      • nevilleross

        Also, is all that we can focus on as a people just going to be ‘subways, subways, subways’? Or can we focus on other more important issues, as I’ve said above (and was already said here at Torontoist a few months back?)

        • Squintz

          I’m not advocating that, it’s simply a reflection of the toxic political climate we live in. I’m saying the same thing you are, if that is the focus, it limits the room we have for other debates/perspectives which I’m saying is as much to blame for Fletcher’s supposed inability to “compromise or think independently.”

          • nevilleross

            But I am saying this about the DRL, and it’s high time that we all do so as well. We must think of other issues besides building an underground choo-choo so that meatsacks can go from one place to the other (and yes, there are OTHER issues for Chow and the others to be concerned about.)

          • TheSotSays

            As far as anyone can tell your main focus is a bigoted hatred of Rob Ford and your upcoming marriage to Cordell.Garrett on the 26th..

    • dsmithhfx

      I fail to see how mccarthyism contributes to the discussion. Please, enlighten me.

      • nevilleross

        Oh, you know, people can’t deal with progressive ideas put forth by progressive people, and so have to put said people (and ideas) down with red-baiting comments.

        • dsmithhfx

          I don’t think the ndp has had a genuinely socialist thought in its pretty little head for at least three decades. Communist? fuggedaboutit.

  • Squintz

    That could be because she isn’t saying much. No platform, no featured policies, just the hope to work together, build bridges, figure out which side of issues she is on and some populist rhetoric about people being unhappy.
    I actually live in the ward and would appreciate a firm stance on anything Farrow plans to do if she wants to take up the mantle of progressive.