Meet Your Candidates: Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina

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Meet Your Candidates: Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina

During this year’s municipal election, far more is at stake than just the mayoralty. Toronto has forty-four wards, each with its own council seat up for grabs. To demystify the most contested of those races, Torontoist is presenting a series of profiles of the key candidates.

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Karen Sun, Mike Layton, and Sean McCormick. All images courtesy of the respective candidates.


Ward 19 is bounded by Dupont Street in the north, and Exhibition Place in the south. Its east and west boundaries are Bathurst Street and Dovercourt Road, respectively―except for a narrow section at the top where the eastern boundary is Christie Street. Ward 19 encompasses some of the City’s best-loved parks, including Christie Pits and Trinity Bellwoods. It includes the popular (and controversial) Ossington Avenue strip, as well as the burgeoning condo community in Liberty Village. The area’s rapidly changing character has become a matter of contention in this year’s election, and nine candidates are running for Ward 19’s council seat, soon to be vacated by Joe Pantalone. Here, we focus on three of the most prominent—Karen Sun, Mike Layton, and Sean McCormick.


Do you live in Ward 19? See our Ward 19 page for an interactive ward map, photos, and more.

KAREN SUN

Karen Sun

About the candidate:
Karen Sun brings local environmental credibility to her council bid, having worked for the City of Toronto’s Urban Forestry Services and also for its Water and Wastewater Division. Later, she became executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter. Currently, she serves on the boards of several extra-governmental community organizations, including Heritage Toronto.
Sun is a North York native who moved downtown for a change in lifestyle. Her policy talk has a way of circling back to a central motif: community engagement. “I think there is a way for a councillor to play both sides, both as a community organizer and a policy maker,” she tells us. “A big part of their job is cutting red tape, and finding innovative ways of making things happen.”
We chatted with Sun across a table inside her College Street campaign office, a small storefront with walls painted smiley-face yellow. Here’s what we found out…
On condo development in Liberty Village:
Sun has reservations about Liberty Village condo development, though she doesn’t exactly disapprove.
“I think there will be more pressure to build denser, and to build towers. And I think that’s fine,” she said. “But if we are going to be building up, I think we need to go to some of those other cities and see how they build tower communities well.”
“Because right now [Toronto is] zoning them as mixed-use, and then building twenty-, thirty-storey towers with a Rabba and a Blockbuster on the first floor, and calling that mixed-use. When you’re putting another thousand residents into an area that used to be zoned as employment lands and the only employment opportunities are retail at a couple of stores, I mean, that’s not a community, right?”
Sun said that, as councillor, she would work to negotiate with developers, in consultation with Ward 19 community members.
On the Ossington Avenue interim restaurant ban, and the impending imposition of permanent restrictions on new restaurants on Ossington between Queen and Dundas Streets, pending final approval by the OMB:
Sun believes that Ossington’s development was happening too quickly, but said that the decision to impose the ban was made without adequate community consultation.
“The interim control bylaw was put in place. It was in a public meeting where people yelled at each other,” she said. “There might have been another consultation or two that people from what I understand didn’t really know about.”
There were, in fact, exactly two community consultations held by the City. Both took place after the interim ban had gone into effect. The first was attended by roughly 175 people, while the second only attracted seventy to eighty, according to a report by City staff.
“The other concern I have with the interim control bylaw is that it doesn’t actually address the issue that people had concerns about,” said Sun. “People had concerns about noise from the bars, which should be dealt with through…enforcement of the noise bylaw.”
Sun would like to push for changes to the provincial “signs of consumption” law, which penalizes restaurant owners for allowing patrons to continue to drink after 2:45 a.m. A more lenient law, Sun said, would allow drinkers to leave at their own pace, preventing a noisy mass exodus after last call. She’s also in support of reforming restaurant licensing to make it easier to distinguish between restaurants and bars. (Currently, Ontario’s liquor licensing regime makes no strong distinction between the two, which makes bars more difficult to regulate.)
On transit expansion:
“One of the main reasons why I’m in support of Transit City,” said Sun, “is because there is a plan. It has been approved. There does seem to be support by the feds and the province to fund it…It takes so long for any transit anything to happen in this city, that I wouldn’t want to squash that.”
Sun wouldn’t support selling City assets to pay for transit, but would consider certain ways of raising private money. “I’m wary of public-private partnerships,” she said. “But I think it’s a matter of how it’s done.”
On finance, and the City of Toronto’s “spending problem”:
Sun would try to allay taxpayer anger by increasing transparency in the City budget process.
“There used to be more opportunities for public comment on [the] budget,” she said. “So it would go to committee, people would have their say on different programs…and in this past year a lot of those opportunities were taken away.”
Sun has been involved with the Toronto Open Budget Initiative, a group that advocates for community involvement in the municipal budget process.
“I think there needs to be a lot more education for the public to understand how taxes work,” she said, “and the differences between property taxes and income taxes, and what the province used to pay for and what the province doesn’t pay for anymore, and what property taxes were designed to pay for.”
On cycling infrastructure:
“I would prioritize bike lanes on roads that see the most bike accidents. And here it’s Queen, College, and Bloor,” Sun said.
On electrification for the Georgetown GO corridor and the Union-Pearson Rail Link:
Sun supports electrification.
On whether or not she’d be able to work with a Mayor Ford:
Sun was executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter when Ford committed his now-infamous “orientals” gaffe.
“I’ve worked with people before who don’t get it,” she said, “and I’m willing to cut them a little bit of slack.”

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Condo construction in Liberty Village is of concern in Ward 19. Photo by Stephen Sokolov, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

MIKE LAYTON

Mike Layton

About the candidate:
Mike Layton has a few things going for him, his environmental policy experience being one. Most recently he worked as an outreach officer for Environmental Defence, an advocacy group that engages with a range of local and national environmental issues. He has also been involved with other environmental organizations. It doesn’t hurt—at least for name-recognition purposes—that he’s a scion of the federal NDP: Jack Layton is his father and Olivia Chow his stepmother.
Layton’s campaign office is in the College Street storefront occupied, until recently, by Balfour Books. “We didn’t kick them out,” he assures us. (Balfour is relocating further east on College.)
On the patio of a nearby coffee shop, we mention that the afternoon’s stiff cross-breeze might cause problems for the mic on our voice recorder. Layton removes his suit jacket and drapes it across the railing as a makeshift windscreen, and perhaps a dozen pens and pencils rain from the jacket’s pockets onto the sidewalk, about ten feet below. Layton runs down a flight of stairs and gathers them all, then jogs back, sits down, and resumes sipping his iced tea, seemingly unperturbed.
On condo development in Liberty Village:
“I think it’s great down in Liberty Village,” he said. “People built these condos and said, ‘Ah we’re gonna get some singles down here, we’re not gonna get many families, we’ll put up a couple buildings and we’ll see what happens.’ But families and communities are really starting to form down there.”
“We’ve got to help them do that by investing in the services that they need to have a good life down there.” These, he said, would include green spaces, community centres, and more reliable transit.
On the Ossington Avenue interim restaurant ban, and the impending imposition of permanent restrictions on new restaurants on Ossington between Queen and Dundas Streets, pending final approval by the OMB:
Layton expressed qualified approval for the ban, provided that the permanent regulations that may ultimately replace it don’t prevent responsible businesses from opening on the Ossington strip.
“It’s within twenty-five feet of Ossington, there are people living,” he said, “and they’ve lived there for forty-five years. And they’re used to having the neighbourhood a certain way. And it’s not that they don’t want it to change, it’s that they don’t want their quality of life to suffer because a couple bars opened up.”
He’s discussed, with bar owners, the possibility of changing licensing laws in order to distinguish between bars and restaurants. He acknowledged that doing this would require provincial co-operation.
On transit expansion:
“I’m for Transit City. Building light rail out to the suburbs, if that’s what works density-wise, and cost-wise, that’s what works, and I’m not gonna say that it doesn’t work.”
“The plan is there,” Layton continued. “The funding’s coming. Let’s get to it.”
Layton is in favour of constructing a new downtown relief subway line, to augment the existing downtown lines, but he’d look beyond the City of Toronto to fund it. He’s against selling City assets in order to pay for transit, but would support efforts to lobby higher levels of government for subsidies.
On finance, and the City of Toronto’s “spending problem”:
“I don’t think there’s a spending problem as much as there’s an efficiency problem,” offers Layton, who thinks the City does a fair job of providing value for money given its continual lack of federal and provincial investment.
“We can get rid of taxes,” he continues. “That would be fabulous. Unfortunately, we also have to pay for services, and if we can’t pay for those services, then what are the cuts that are going to come from eliminating those taxes? Who’s going to lose?”
On cycling infrastructure:
Layton would pursue the City’s planned bikeway network. “We’ve got to keep plugging away at it,” he said.
On electrification for the Georgetown GO corridor and the Union-Pearson Rail Link:
Layton would support electrification. “Just a little more investment would get this thing done right,” he said.
On whether or not he’d be able to work with a Mayor Ford:
“For years, I’ve been involved in co-ordinating coalitions, sometimes with very, very different viewpoints,” said Layton. He acknowledged that he and Ford would frequently be in disagreement.

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Rapid change on Ossington Avenue has become an election issue in Ward 19. Photo by Metrix X, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

SEAN MCCORMICK


Sean McCormick

About the candidate:
Sean McCormick was in sports broadcasting for nearly fifteen years (most recently he was an anchor on Rogers Sportsnet), which gives his campaign a certain amount of built-in visibility. He left his job, he said, in order to focus on his council run.
McCormick has little direct political experience, but points to his community involvement as evidence of his suitability for the job of city councillor. In 2008, he founded the Queen West Musicfest, a music festival featuring local indie talent, which takes place each summer in Trinity Bellwoods Park.
As a former on-camera personality, he’s handsome, well spoken, and always seemingly in total possession of himself. Before sitting us down in a Starbucks near his campaign office (a former martial arts dojo on College Street), he took a moment to chat up the barista about the election.
On condo development in Liberty Village:
McCormick is generally in support of more and denser development, though he concedes that developers require a certain amount of oversight.
His one particular concern is the yet-to-be-built Liberty Village pedestrian bridge. The bridge would enable easier access to Liberty Village by spanning the railroad tracks that run across the neighbourhood’s northern edge. Currently, a majority of residents use Strachan Avenue to cross the rails, which can be inconvenient for some.
“These populations have no way to easily utilize the other amenities of each other’s areas,” said McCormick. “Mainly the Metro in Liberty Village. That is the only grocery—like, large grocery store—available to either area, Queen West included.”
The bridge has already received preliminary approval, and is in the midst of an environmental assessment (after which it will need final approval by City Council), but McCormick said that, as councillor, he’d attempt to expedite the process.
On the Ossington Avenue interim restaurant ban, and the impending imposition of permanent restrictions on new restaurants on Ossington between Queen and Dundas Streets, pending final approval by the OMB:
McCormick feels that the ban was “unfair and short sighted.”
“It was filled with karaoke bars,” he said of Ossington prior to the beginning of its bar and restaurant boom, about five years ago. “It was filled with drug dealers. It was filled with the ne’er-do-wells of the area.”
He said he hadn’t heard any complaints relating to noise from Ossington’s bars during his time spent canvassing the area. (Noise complaints were one of the reasons the ban was initially imposed.)
“I know what’s been written in the papers…I’m telling you what people are telling me, and people are telling me that they’re glad [to have the new establishments]. And I can say personally, as a resident of the area, that I’m glad it’s transformed the way it has as well, because there are restaurants down there that are world class.”
On transit expansion:
McCormick is in favour of expanding the City’s subway network.
“I think we need to differentiate,” he said. “I think there’s a misconception out there that if you’re not for Transit City, you must not be for transit expansion. So I’ll start by saying that I don’t support the Transit City plan, but I do support transit expansion.”
McCormick believes that Transit City planners neglected to account for the costs of operating the proposed light rail lines (one of which, the Sheppard East LRT, is already under construction). “That eight-billion that has been allotted to Transit City only takes into account the construction costs…all it does is that it takes into account the infrastructure.” The fact that those operating costs would need to be financed, in part, by taxpayers, he said, was a “fundamental business problem.”
The eight-billion dollars McCormick was referring to was the original sum pledged by the province towards construction of the lines. Earlier this year, that sum was cut in half, to roughly four-billion dollars.
The province’s money is, as McCormick said, earmarked only for building the proposed new lines, and not operating them. TTC spokesman Brad Ross confirmed that operating costs for the lines are still unknown. Those costs “are still being worked out based on the level of service (how many LRTs at what time of day, etc.) together with projected ridership,” he told us in an email.
McCormick’s preferred transit solution is subway expansion, which he acknowledges would also require significant investment.
“I’m not going to say I support this one way or the other, but I like the way he’s thinking on this, because he’s thinking in a fiscally responsible way,” said McCormick. “I’m referring to Rocco [Rossi’s] plan on subways,” which involves selling City-owned Toronto Hydro to raise the capital necessary to pay for more subway lines. McCormick is also intrigued by the idea of contracting with private companies to operate new subway lines.
On finance, and the City of Toronto’s “spending problem”:
McCormick would cut both spending and taxes.
“I think too many politicians in this city,” he said, “David Miller being one of them, have not put enough thought into fiscal responsibility. It’s been a tax-and-spend regime over the past eight years.”
McCormick is in favour of eliminating both the Land Transfer Tax and the Vehicle Registration Tax. He strongly opposes the City’s practice of offering sole-sourced contracts.
On cycling infrastructure:
McCormick would support painting new bike lanes only on non-arterial roads.
On electrification for the Georgetown GO corridor and the Union-Pearson Rail Link:
McCormick believes electrification would be too much of a burden on the taxpayer, for the time being.
On whether or not he’d be able to work with a Mayor Ford:
McCormick’s policy goals are not in significant conflict with those of Rob Ford.

Get more municipal election coverage from Torontoist here.

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