The three-term councillor, who won a close contest in 2010, is looking to hold on to her Ward 30 seat.
In 2010, Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto Danforth) edged out challenger Liz West to retain her downtown east seat, which she’s held since 2003. During the past four years, she’s experienced what she described to Torontoist in an interview last week as an “unprecedented” term under Mayor Rob Ford. “I don’t think anyone’s seen anything like it in Toronto, or in most other cities,” she commented. She was particularly disturbed by Ford’s attitude toward the LGBTQ community during the recent Sochi Olympics. “He really likes to divide; he has divided, but he has not conquered.”
Fletcher rejects the notion that council’s business has stalled under Ford. “For the first 10 or 11 months, the mayor held sway and did so many things,” said Fletcher, adding that she fought unsuccessfully against bike lane removals and the firing of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s board of directors and CEO. “By the time we got to the budget in 2012,” Fletcher went on, “the community outcry of the citizenry, pulling all-nighters, and making deputations … that was unprecedented as well” and had “a tremendous effect on our ability to pull together the 23 votes that really became the beginning of the end for the mayor.”
She disagrees with challenger Liz West’s assertion that partisanship at City Hall prevents councillors from working together. “I think that is a characterization that, if that’s how you see it, you’d have a hard time doing the work of a councillor. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes in order to get the well-crafted proposals that come forward, or to make sure that the worst extremes of the mayor aren’t realized. I think we’ve done a pretty good job given how difficult a term of council this has been … it’s been quite a ride.”
The election of new TTC commissioners, the revival of parts of Transit City plan, and the hiring of staff such as chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, Fletcher asserts, are proof that council managed to overcome Ford’s initial influence. “Now we also have Villier’s Island down at the waterfront,” Fletcher said. “And we have the first precinct planned in the Ward 30 part of the waterfront, which is very exciting. Somehow, the other councillors working together has unleashed a lot of energy on the floor of council.”
She says her ability to cooperate with other councillors has led to the protection of important City resources, particularly the waterfront. “That was a momentous move to take those 800 acres away from [Ford's] business interests,” Fletcher said of the mayor’s failed plan to develop a monorail, ferris wheel, and mall in the Port Lands. She points to her work on the waterfront file with councillors Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) and Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), and former Etobicoke councillor Peter Milczyn as an example of effective collaboration. “That’s how you get things done at City Hall, and it’s how we’ve blunted the worst parts of the mayor’s reckless agenda.”
Fletcher called herself an “implacable foe of anyone who wants to unseat Waterfront Toronto”—the tripartite body charged with lakeside development—and said it must remain in charge of future planning, because that means that “for every dollar the City puts in, two more come from the province and the feds.” Fletcher promised to work toward flood-proofing lands near the mouth of the Don River before proceeding with development.
On cycling, Fletcher said she was proud of the progress in her area. “I have more bike lanes throughout my ward than other east-end councillors,” she commented. “My focus right now is on trying to upgrade the Dundas lane, because it’s a commuter lane.” Fletcher added that while improving cycling lanes along Danforth is a priority for her, council needs to study how lanes would work near the on-ramps to the Don Valley Parkway. “This mayor has made it very difficult to have those conversations, because he is only a car mayor.”
Fletcher stood by her support of an LRT to replace the Scarborough Rapid Transit line, saying it’s too early to tell whether the subway proposal along that route would survive. “This council voted for that leg to be a subway.” Fletcher said. “I think we’ll have to see what the makeup of council is going to be. I will not be part of anything to make other subways on Sheppard and Finch. The mayor is very important in determining what the next step will be.”
The incumbent took issue with opponent West’s intention to prevent council from changing its mind on transit projects. “For someone to say, ‘I’m going to move a motion that we’re never going to change anything,’ that’s very naive, because 23 votes on council can change anything.”
On housing, Fletcher said the City is doing everything it can to support low-income tenants. “New housing is dependent on provincial funds. We created funding for the TCH backlog,” Fletcher said, referring to a plan from councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport) to sell TCHC homes and use the proceeds to fund repairs. “TCH gets used as a political football a lot, but I think that was a solid plan led by Councillor Bailão. That didn’t happen under David Miller. It happened under Rob Ford.”
Fletcher also said she is worried about affordable rental space being lost in her area, particularly as older properties are sold and redeveloped into condos. “The City’s rental replacement policy is more important than ever right now,” Fletcher said of a City plan that aims to conserve rental units above commercial properties on main streets. She suggests that TCH should also be looking to build co-op developments, especially for seniors.
When we asked about endorsements and the mayoral race, Fletcher said that before the Ford era, formal endorsements of and from mayoral candidates were uncommon. But she did have very supportive words for candidate Olivia Chow, whose platform she referred to as “visionary”: “I certainly have worked with Olivia for a number of years, and my council seat was Jack [Layton]‘s council seat before that,” said Fletcher. “I’m not endorsing anyone—I’m focusing on getting re-elected. But I do have to say that she has the energy, she’s been here before, and I think she’s going to get a lot of support in the east end of Toronto.”
Fletcher argued that her close race with West in 2010 was all about the context of that election. “Last election I actually got more raw vote than in any previous election,” said Fletcher. “I think people wanted change in 2010, and I was very involved with [former mayor] David Miller. I think voters got caught up in that.” She continued, “I think in this last term, and having Ford there, residents in Ward 30 have really appreciated my ability to maneuver and work in this difficult environment.”