Former No Jets T.O. organizer says grassroots credentials set him apart in a crowded downtown race.
When Anshul Kapoor registered to run for city council in Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina, last week, two dozen other candidates had already put their names forward—currently, Joe Cressy, who lost the recent federal by-election in that area, is considered to be the frontrunner in the race. When Kapoor sat down with Torontoist on Thursday, he said his time as chair of No Jets T.O., the advocacy group that has battled the expansion of Porter Airlines at Toronto’s Billy Bishop (Island) Airport, sets him apart from his competitors.
“It’s not about the people who are running. It’s about what they’ve done,” Kapoor said in an interview at a Harbord Street cafe. “I am the only candidate in this ward that has worked at the community level and put together a grassroots campaign to fight against the biggest lobby this city has ever seen.” Kapoor credited No Jets T.O.’s campaign—which built up a city-wide contact list of over 14,000 residents—with pushing the City to investigate the expansion proposal in greater depth.
Kapoor, who lives in the Queens Quay waterfront neighbourhood within the ward, says he and his wife fly with Porter, and were well aware of the airport when they moved to the area in 2010. “The airport was never the issue–the lack of vision for that airport has become an issue,” Kapoor explained. He was equally critical of what he described as a lack of vision and planning at City Hall. “We never consider ourselves a waterfront city. We never agree in our own minds to say that, yes, we have this beautiful waterfront that we have ignored in the past, and now we need to replenish it and recognize the economic impact it can bring.”
Kapoor mentioned former two-term councillor Adam Vaughan more than once during the conversation, and described the now-member of Parliament for Trinity-Spadina as a creative local leader. When asked if he’s seeking Vaughan’s endorsement, Kapoor replied, “Yes, I am, absolutely. He has clearly said in public that he won’t endorse, but I hope he does, because I think I’m the right person.” Kapoor added that he is receiving support from former staffers in Vaughan’s office. He also stated that he has never been a member of a political party, and that he’s neither endorsing nor seeking an endorsement from any mayoral candidate.
A former digital communications specialist with Rogers, Kapoor says his professional experience has taught him about productivity. “In the private sector, if you don’t bring creative solutions you get fired.” He promised to set clear expectations for residents when it comes to his goals. “Residents need to know: what were the promises made by the previous administration to the community, and how are we going to continue those promises?”
Ward 20 is well-served by transit, Kapoor believes—but he feels the city as a whole has been engaged in too many fruitless conversations. “Before we talk about how to raise the money, we need to have a plan for what we’ll spend the money on. That’s the core issue. If it’s Transit City and that’s what we agreed to, bring it back,” Kapoor said of former mayor David Miller’s initiative for light-rail transit lines, adding that he continues to support that vision. “If it’s not Transit City, fine. Let’s find another solution to do it.”
Like it or not, Kapoor said, the City needs provincial and federal government support to expand its transit network. “The province, for example, is not going to give us the funds if we don’t come to them with a unified plan of what we need the funds for,” he insisted. He criticized the major mayoral candidates for promising to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation while promising to build new transit. “What is the opportunity cost–what are we going to lose out on if we don’t raise taxes?”
Kapoor also said that he would advocate specifically for bike lanes along Bloor Street, and for the general expansion of a network across the city. He chastised the City for failing to reach the “execution phase” of its 2001 Bike Plan, which was meant to be fully implemented by 2011. “But bike lanes alone cannot survive,” Kapoor continued. “They need full integration into our transit and mobility planning.” He promised to make TTC stations more accessible for cyclists who want to use both modes for their commutes.
Kapoor, who grew up in public housing in Mississauga, said he understands the economic challenges people confront living downtown. “Affordable housing doesn’t necessarily mean social housing,” he said, and emphasized the need for housing for young professionals, seniors, and low-income people. “We cannot be a city of elitists where, if you cannot afford a million-dollar house, you’re forced to live on the outskirts.” Kapoor also expressed interest in a priority Vaughan pursued as councillor: “One of the key things I want to do is have a stipulated percentage of family housing in every new building,” Kapoor said, adding that he hopes such a rule can become a city-wide standard.
There are doubtless local residents who support airport expansion, but Kapoor said he isn’t worried that they may see his advocacy on that issue as detrimental to the local community and economy. “The fact that the [Toronto Port Authority] had already applied for $100 million in funds that could have gone elsewhere in the city is a problem. That’s not our first priority. If we can get $100 million, that money can go to housing, to transit.” Kapoor also claimed that “the expansion was only made a priority because one friend, Robert Deluce, called another friend, Rob Ford, who pushed it through executive council. That is not how you build cities.”
Kapoor said that his political vision, like Vaughan’s, will focus on planning and development. He hoped that, in addition to the ongoing redevelopment of Toronto Community Housing’s Alexandra Park complex, the City might also look to improve the adjacent Scadding Court Community Centre. “Scadding Court was supposed to be redeveloped back in Olivia Chow’s days,” Kapoor said. The Alexandra Park redevelopment, he notes, will significantly increase the demand for local community services. “You cannot have one without the other.”