Rob Shirkey wants your vote... eventually.
Most of us are still reeling from the outcome of the 2010 municipal election, but not Rob Shirkey. On Monday, the 32-year-old lawyer announced, in a 13-minute video he posted to his personal website, that he’d left the legal profession to concentrate on running for Ward 36’s council seat—in 2014.
His platform, at this point, still hasn’t really coalesced (though it’s not as if he doesn’t have plenty of time to refine it). “I feel as though humanity is at a point where we really need to start living in a more sustainable manner,” he said, during a phone interview earlier this week. “I think I have this global perspective, and this sense of urgency, too, that I don’t think a lot of our leadership really appreciates.”
Shirkey is a North York native who left Toronto for school, eventually earned his law degree at the University of Victoria, then worked as assistant solicitor to the City of North Bay before returning home permanently in the fall of 2010. He’s now living in an apartment at Victoria Park and Queen Street, and looking for part-time work to help make ends meet as he pursues his long campaign.
Announcing a council bid three years before election day is an unorthodox and risky move. People who want to run in the 2014 election likely will not be able to file their nomination papers until January of that year. The Municipal Elections Act forbids anyone who hasn’t already filed those papers from raising or spending any money to help get themselves elected. And so not only is Shirkey jumping the gun by about 730 days, but there’s a possibility he’s exposing himself to an audit at the conclusion of the race.
He’s not concerned about that.
“I might spend, say, three bucks on transit to go somewhere and knock on doors,” he said. “I’m going to be very careful.” His plan, as outlined in the introductory video he posted to his website (it’s also embedded, above), is to spend as much time as possible talking to thousands of residents between now and election day.
He rightly points out that incumbents effectively aren’t bound by the rules. They can curry favour with constituents throughout their terms. “Any incumbent will have a period of four years where they’re sending their constitutents all sorts of literature,” he said. “So, there’s a bit of imbalance there.”
The incumbent in Ward 36 is rookie councillor Gary Crawford, who proudly touts his artistic credentials (on his LinkedIn page, he identifies himself as a “portrait and landscape painter”). Even so, he tends to vote with the mayor.
A more typical path to a council seat than the one Shirkey is embarking upon would involve a long process of dues-paying. Crawford, for example, served as a trustee on the Toronto District School Board for seven years before making an attempt on city hall. Other councillors elected in 2010 have similarly long records of community engagement.
But not everyone on council got there the usual way. Karen Stintz, TTC chair and councillor for Ward 16, became a candidate in 2003 after hearing about a want-ad in the North Toronto Town Crier, that had been placed by residents seeking someone to upset the incumbent at the time, Anne Johnston. Stintz was a political unknown who had only bought a home in her ward three years prior.
Shirkey traces his desire to mount a marathon council bid back to a painful time in his life. About five years ago, his father died of cancer. Shortly after that, a close friend and a (now ex-) girlfriend were also diagnosed. Both are currently fine.
“I think the role that that plays, for me, is I really do have this deep understanding, now, that our time here is limited,” Shirkey said. “I suspect that if it weren’t for that, who knows? I might be continuing down the more traditional legal career path.”
He has some experience with endurance sport. “A few years ago I rode my bicycle across Canada, from Vancouver to Halifax,” he said. “The feeling that I had when we reached the Atlantic…it was kind of bizarrely anti-climactic.”
He’s optimistic that this latest project will turn out otherwise.
“I’m really looking forward to this,” he said. “And I think I’ll win, actually. And what I think this will result in is a huge number of people coming out to the polls who lost their faith in politics.”