The former MP now seeks a local seat in the area he represented federally for 25 years.
Former Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis first got involved in local politics nearly 30 years ago, when concerns about his daughter’s safety prompted him to join her school’s parent-teacher association. After 25 years of service in Ottawa, Karygiannis resigned this spring, seeking to make a return to local government by running for the council seat in Ward 39, Scarbrough-Agincourt.
Karygiannis said the commute to and from Ottawa put a strain on his family life and that he wants to spend more time with his family, particularly his mother. Current Scarborough-Agincourt councillor Mike Del Grande, whom Karygiannis has supported in previous elections, has announced he’s stepping down after three terms in office.
“I started in local politics, with the BIA,” Karygiannis told us in a recent interview near Finch and Warden avenues. He chaired the Danforth Village Business Association (now the Greektown BIA) and helped to organize the Heritage Day festival (now Taste of the Danforth festival). “As an MP, I was doing a lot of stuff federally with the mindset of the city,” said Karygiannis. “It’s an easy transition—[constituents] know me, they know my record.”
The outspoken political veteran didn’t mince words when asked about the current state of affairs at City Hall: “It’s dysfunctional. I can understand that it takes 44 people to tango, but I cannot understand why we need to have all the saga.” Karygiannis also said that while he has some sympathy for Mayor Rob Ford’s battle with addiction, he believes Ford has created many of his own political problems. “I find the way that Ford has carried on in the last few years as troublesome, and very disrespectful to the people who put him there.”
Karygiannis expressed frustration with the City’s ongoing struggles to ease transportation gridlock. “There’s no excuse for cars to be stuck on the Don Valley on the way to work in the morning,” he commented. “If we were in another city, they’d would have put another decker on, or put an HOV lane to move the people who are carpooling faster, move the buses faster.”
Karygiannis also expressed support for expanding the city’s bike network, but emphasized that he supports only separated bike lanes that do not use up existing traffic lanes. “We’ve got a lot of green space alongside the sidewalks that we can use,” Karygiannis argued. “If European cities can afford to do it, and they’re bankrupt, I cannot see why we don’t have them.”
In addition to expanding the bike network, Karygiannis said he would advocate for bicycle licensing. “When you’re riding a bike, that’s a vehicle. You should be stopping at stop signs, you should be obeying the rules of the road, and you should be wearing a hardhat.”
When it comes to the fate of the long-delayed Sheppard LRT, Karygiannis said he would advocate to extend the current Sheppard subway beyond Don Mills Road. “My community overwhelmingly wants to see a Sheppard subway,” said Karygiannis. “The LRT was voted in, and was short-sighted.” He admitted that the tens of millions of dollars the City would lose if it abandoned the project was “a lot of money,” but held that a subway is the only option for local residents.
“The sooner we decide to build that subway, the better it’s going to be. And once the decision is made, we’ve gotta stick to it, we’ve gotta move on.” When we reminded Karygiannis that Ford began his term of office by delaying the Transit City proposal council had voted for, he replied, “the mayor is only one vote. Ford was able to persuade many people.”
When asked if his area needs more affordable housing, Karygiannis replied, “I’d like to see more affordable housing built everywhere.” But he was critical of what he called the “old Regent Park model” of housing that is isolated from the larger community. He said the City should construct more single family dwelling for low-income residents. “Why would I put everyone who’s a single mom, who’s down on their luck, in a dump? There’s no caste system in Canada.”
Karygiannis said he is also concerned by a number of illegal rooming houses in the Steeles-L’Amoreaux neighbourhood he seeks to represent. “We need to give the fire department more tools to check rooming houses, but ultimately, the ability to properly inspect them comes from the province.”
He weighed in on the Pride festival, which local politicians have criticized in recent years over concerns about nudity and freedom of speech. “I’m pro-life, I support traditional family values,” Karygiannis said. “But that doesn’t mean that somebody in that community should be given less respect. But I do have a problem with nudity.”
When pressed, Karygiannis said such concerns may have been blown out of proportion. “I think both sides need to step back. Just because one idiot is out there with his private parts out, that’s not part of the parade.”
Better supports for newcomers in Scarborough and to investigate reform council committees—where residents often wait hours to speak to issues—would also be on his agenda.
Karygiannis has been knocking on doors—a familiar routine for the seasoned politician—and says he’s been getting a positive response from residents. “Not everybody likes me. There’s that 15 or 20 per cent who don’t like me. But I’m not running as a Liberal; I’m running as Jim for council.” The former MP hopes his years of service in Scarborough at the federal level will translate into electoral success at City Hall. “There’s a lot of people that I’ve helped over the years, who might have been Liberal or Conservative, who voted for me because of me.”