2013 Hero: No Casino Toronto and Mike Layton
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2013 Hero: No Casino Toronto and Mike Layton

Nominated for: standing up for a city that puts its residents first.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 2 p.m. on January 1. At 4 p.m. we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

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For much of 2013, Rob Ford’s primary policy objective was to revitalize the dying city that apparently is Toronto by opening up a Sideshow Bob-esque casino on the waterfront. The latest, perhaps most ambitious of Ford’s city-building notions, it was heavily backed by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and a small army of lobbyists. Unlike the Ferris wheel follies a couple of years earlier, with this support it was a notion that started to look increasingly, uncomfortably imaginable.

Throughout the long, turbulent arc of the casino controversy, No Casino Toronto stayed ahead of the issue and its manipulation. Created by residents who often turned down help from professional political staffers to keep their grassroots focus, the group galvanized community members, provided reports and public engagement tools, and showed up at City Hall to help win over key votes.

Leadership was also needed inside City Hall, and that was provided by first term councillor Mike Layton. The author of a letter signed by 23 other councillors, calling for a special meeting to debate the issue rather than allow Ford to delay matters, it was Layton who organized the political strategy to coincide with the grassroots effort. And when the issue came to its final vote, it was Layton’s two motions—one against the proposed waterfront development itself, another supporting existing gaming facilities in Woodbine—that ultimately proved decisive.

It’s not just because of the way they worked to save Toronto at the time that Layton and No Casino Toronto get our nod for 2013 Hero. It’s also because, as what we hope will be end of this long, pathetic chapter in Toronto’s history draws nearer, we can appreciate the invaluable precedent they helped set for effective leadership during a period of crisis and scandal, and how they kept us focused on keeping our city working. If nothing else, they get our nod simply for reminding us that it still does.