After a failed run for MP in Trinity-Spadina, the activist and former Olivia Chow staffer is setting his sights on municipal government.
When Torontoist last spoke with Joe Cressy in June, the former campaign manager for Olivia Chow was running to replace his former boss as member of parliament—Chow had stepped down from the position in Trinity-Spadina to run for mayor of Toronto. Cressy was soundly defeated by former Trinity-Spadina councillor Adam Vaughan, who had resigned his Ward 20 council seat to run for MP. Now, continuing the game of political musical chairs, Cressy is running to replace Vaughan in Ward 20.
Cressy told Torontoist in an interview last week that many of those who supported Vaughan in the federal race urged him to run for council. “I heard it every day on the campaign trail,” said Cressy. He framed his transition to a council campaign as a natural one because of his work on public water infrastructure, HIV/AIDS, local food issues, and public transit. “Public service is a noble thing,” said Cressy, whose parents both served as Toronto city councillors. “For me, there’s an opportunity to work with the community on issues that I care about.”
Cressy confirmed that he remains a card-carrying New Democratic Party member. He’s sharing campaign resources with neighbouring incumbent councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina)—and TDSB trustee candidate Ausma Malik is also campaigning out of the office. “The exciting thing about local politics is it’s not party-based. There’s no party platform book for how you deal with park revitalization or bike lanes,” Cressy said. He’s also received endorsements from former Liberals Bob Rae and George Smitherman.
As he has been canvassing the ward, Cressy has been telling residents he supports Chow for mayor. “I encouraged Olivia to run early on, and I’m an active supporter,” Cressy said. “I believe our city needs progressive leadership.” He added that he believes that Chow will address poverty, climate change, and inequities in City services.
Cressy was unequivocal in his condemnation of Mayor Rob Ford. “There’s been an absence of leadership, and when there has been leadership, it’s been destructive.” When asked if he could work with a re-elected Ford, Cressy replied, “With Rob Ford? No…we don’t need to replace Rob Ford, we need to replace his agenda.”
According to Cressy, the proposed expansion of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which would include commercial jets, is a non-starter. “To me, waterfront revitalization is and must be a priority, and it is not compatible with jets or expansion,” Cressy said. “We can have a large, diverse, and beautiful waterfront that happens to have a small airport beside it, or we can have a large airport that has a small waterfront.”
On the issue of replacing the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) line, Cressy favours an LRT. “The original light rail transit plan will serve more people in Scarborough,” Cressy said. “The impact on our 10-year capital budget expenditures for the [proposed] subway is enormous over the next ten years, and we don’t fully know the cost because it’s just an estimate,”said Cressy. “We need to be guided by research and experts.”
Cressy also argued that the City needs to focus more on pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. He expressed support for a proposal from bike advocacy group Cycle Toronto for the creation of 200 new kilometres of cycling lanes and boulevards over the next four years. In Ward 20, Cressy wants to explore a new north-south bike route, and push for bike lanes along Bloor. He said he’d be able to handle the concerns of business owners on Bloor who would lose parking if bike lanes are installed. “Most studies have always shown that where bicycle lanes go in, business goes up,” said Cressy.
High rent and mortgages in the ward could be addressed through the creation of more affordable housing, Cressy contends. “We need to make sure that new development in our city has a firm affordable housing target included,” Cressy said. He suggested this could be done either on a voluntary basis—developers would receive incentives to build affordable units—or through a mandatory inclusionary housing rule.
Cressy also argued that the City has to “get serious” about bringing in new revenue, pointing to the fact that cities such as New York have successfully implemented sales taxes to fund local services. “I’m not afraid to say that the role of government, any government, is to tax and spend,” said Cressy, adding that this principle transcends partisanship. “If we’re not prepared as progressives to win the argument to invest, then we will not become one of the great 21st-century cities.”
Cressy expressed admiration for many of the other 25 candidates running in Ward 20, including former No Jets TO chair Anshul Kapoor. But Cressy said he’s best-suited for the job. “This ward is home, and I’ve spent all my time working on local, national, and international issues,” Cressy said, citing his work on the campaign to ban bottled water from City buildings and invest in the public water system, the NDP’s “I Heart Public Transit” campaign, and his involvement on the boards of directors of Stop Community Food Centre and Social Planning Toronto. “I’ve spent my life working on issues that I care about…I want to continue that work.”
This post originally mentioned that Cressy was a former Olivia Chow staffer; he was never on staff, but did manage her 2011 campaign.