We have frankly, in the past, been skeptical of Joe Cressy. It is an unfortunate truth: some people who chose a political life emotionally disassociate themselves from the work. Stephen Harper does it so much he is the target of jokes about being an automaton. Thomas Mulcair does too (differentiating him from Jack Layton, who not only did not emotionally disconnect from the public but in fact went as far in the other direction as possible), as does Andrea Horwath. And, until recently, Joe Cressy did it as well. This sense of roboticism doesn’t disqualify a person from public office, but neither is it a virtue when the job, by definition, is to represent—to reflect and channel and engage with people whose voices you are meant to bring with you into a political chamber.
Until recently the Joe Cressy we spoke with fell prey to one of the most severe cases of this problem we’d ever seen: he seemed veneered to the point of caricature, a cartoon cutout version of a politician. But something—possibly getting trounced in the federal by-election by Adam Vaughan—seems to have changed Cressy in recent months. Whatever the cause, it is a welcome change. He is palpably different now: engaged, human, remarkably unworried about verbal gaffes or open disagreement, more willing to admit errors and acknowledge areas where he is uncomfortable. And because he has shed whatever candy-shell coating made us leery of his capacity to fully engage with constituents, we can without reservation endorse him for council on the strength of both this demonstrated capacity to grow and his policy commitments.
Cressy’s open—unabashed—support of new revenue tools is bracingly honest and also has the merit of being correct: if Toronto is going to both grow and become more equitable, we are going to need to raise more money to attain those goals. Of the many first-time council candidates we’ve interviewed over the past 10 months he has by far the most sophisticated grasp of the nuances of development policy—essential for one of the most intensifying communities on the continent. He is one of the few candidates who emphasize the environment in their platform. And perhaps most importantly, out of all the council candidates we have spoken with, Cressy was the only one to say, straight up and without reservation, that he would not work with the Fords. His willingness to simply admit that the Fords are poisonous to good governance rather than play at meaningless let’s-be-friends-centrism is, frankly, refreshing.
The other options in Ward 20 do not particularly inspire. Anshul Kapoor‘s experience organizing No Jets TO has not translated to evidence of a good policy mind across the board; when we have spoken with him we have gotten largely left-wing platitudes. Terri Chu has the unofficial backing of many Liberals, which gives her some organizational support in terms of the mechanics of running a campaign but a platform that is full of generalities. Sarah Thomson is, bluntly, a stunt mayoral candidate looking for a consolation prize she has not earned. And, as always in Ward 20, there are a horde of lefty candidates with all the usual issues: a touch of anti-development NIMBYism, a handy helping of progressive generalities, and ardent support for cycling (because Ward 20 is one of the few in Toronto where it is electoral poison to not be a cycling advocate). None of them impresses us as much as Cressy does.
It is not mere optics, a politician’s capacity to genuinely engage with his or her constituents. It is vital to building trust and part of good representation. Cressy may not have launched his political career with this skill, but he is learning it along the way, and otherwise he is simply the best-equipped candidate to manage the extremely complicated issues Ward 20 faces.