The TV broadcaster who lost to Paula Fletcher by 259 votes in 2010 takes a second shot at the Ward 30 council seat.
In 2010, Liz West lost a photo-finish election to incumbent councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth), who defeated her by a mere 259 votes. When we met recently on a Danforth patio for an interview, West cited the exact margin of defeat, and added wryly, “But I’m not counting.” The journalist, author, and television broadcaster said she’s gotten over that setback, and feels confident her second campaign will lead to victory in the October 27 contest.
West says friends and community members urged her to embark on her rookie campaign. “Politics wasn’t on my radar. I don’t really like politicians, probably for the same reasons other people don’t,” West said. When we asked if that attitude makes her quest for council somewhat ironic, West replied, “I don’t look at it as wanting to be a politician, but I do want to be someone who will stand up for my community, who will be proud of my city.”
West told us the biggest problem with City Hall is the dominance of party politics. “I see people sitting in their corners and refusing to acknowledge ideas because they’re coming out of the wrong mouths,” she said. “It seems really petty.” Her reference to party affiliation creates an implicit contrast with Fletcher, a self-proclaimed left-winger with close ties to the provincial and federal New Democratic Party. “I think our biggest issues are really simple fundamentals of living in a city that have nothing to do with what party you’re with,” said West. “Unfortunately, partisan politics has taken over City Hall.”
Local residents have been extremely frustrated by the lack of progress on public transit, West said of her experiences in canvassing the ward. “I don’t think the general public is caught up in what mode of transit to build—they just want transit. And this council refuses to move forward on this issue.” West said she would introduce new rules to prevent council from changing transit plans once they’ve been approved. “Once there’s a plan, hands off, people,” she quipped.
While West characterized Mayor Rob Ford’s resistance to raising money for public transit as “ludicrous,” she refrained from spelling out a preferred method of funding. “There’s no one piggy bank we’re going to pull from. There are federal and provincial governments, and there’s lots of people who believe we could be getting more funding from those levels of government.” West also wouldn’t single out any one transit project as a top priority, saying, “We need to have a plan, a long-term plan, 25 or 50 years.” West did approve of the priorities highlighted by two major mayoral candidates: she lauded Olivia Chow’s plan to increase bus service and John Tory’s call for electrified GO transit lines.
West is critical of council for failing to maintain the Gardiner Expressway, which runs along the south end of Ward 30. “I can’t believe we waited until it was falling apart to have this discussion,” West said, adding that she supports a design by land owner and developer First Gulf that would alter the path of the Gardiner at Cherry Street. “Just maintaining it doesn’t open up the valuable land which we would get a lot of tax dollars from and would allow more access to the waterfront,” said West. She also accused Fletcher of simply wanting to tear down the expressway—Inside Toronto, though, reported in March that Fletcher was involved in a committee decision to consider the First Gulf proposal.
West pledged conditional support for bike lanes along Danforth Avenue, saying that lanes could be made available to cyclists during rush hour. “This is a major commute for bikes,” she noted. “People aren’t parking here between 7 and 9 [a.m.]. We’re doing a lousy job of taking care of people who need to commute on a bike. And we need to respect our small businesses, which provide employment and are the lifeblood of a community … it doesn’t have to be one or the other.”
On housing, West said the City needs to look at inclusionary zoning, which would force developers to designate a percentage of new units as affordable residences. “It’s important that neighbourhoods be mixed,” she stated.
For her, West told us, a successful term in office would include a 25-year transit plan, improved cycling infrastructure, and more unity among councillors. While those goals may seem optimistic, West added, making reference to Fletcher’s political experience, “That’s the benefit of having a newbie in there … I’m not bringing in all the cynicism that comes from 12 years on council.”
West’s strongest criticism of the incumbent councillor pertained to Fletcher’s handling of recent challenges at the Red Door Shelter, a facility whose tenuous real-estate situation has threatened its future operations. “I would invite you to call the developer who’s buying that building where the Red Door Shelter is in, and ask him if his intention was to keep the shelter or not,” West said.
When we asked if West believed that Fletcher, who responded vigorously to the shelter’s real estate troubles, had exaggerated the urgency of the situation, she responded, “Sometimes people can make themselves look more useful if they want to. I’m not the person to say, ‘C’mon troops, let’s go get our troops and attack the bad guy.’ That’s not how I operate. I don’t think it works.”
“The benefit of that whole thing is that The Red Door got a ton of support, got a ton of awareness, got a ton of money, and now they’re in a much better position to create the kind of facility they want,” West observed. “But I think our councillor’s good at picking fights. I don’t think that’s my form of management, and that’s not how I’d be a leader.”