For progressives in Toronto, Ward 30 is perhaps the most tense of the 2014 council races. On the one hand there is Paula Fletcher: old guard labour advocate, a strong progressive, waterfront champion, prone to irresponsible flights of fancy. Some say she’s spent too long at City Hall, having first been elected in 2003. On the other hand is Jane Farrow: urbanist darling, founder director of the now-international Jane’s Walk, former CBC producer, with interludes working at the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Parks People, and elsewhere. Farrow’s entrance into the race was marked by cheers (“the next generation!” “community advocacy!” “public engagement”) and significant backlash. “How dare you,” this line of thinking went, “run against another progressive, and risk losing the seat to another candidate entirely?!”
That backlash is ugly and unwarranted. Paula Fletcher may be the incumbent, but her seat is not a sinecure: she needs to earn her votes each election year just like every other candidate. Farrow had every right to enter the race, and progressives condemning her for that choice should re-examine their commitment to the values of inclusivity that they profess.
Farrow has every right to be running. But Paula Fletcher is still the one who deserves your vote.
To be clear: Fletcher is not a perfect option. But this past term she did stand-out work helping to lead the fight against Doug Ford’s blitheringly stupid idea for a giant Ferris wheel/monorail/shopping mall at the Port Lands. She is a reliable progressive vote: she will support social programs and fair wages and other things a wealthy city can and should provide to help support its most vulnerable residents. Sometimes she does not seem to understand the gravitas of her role at City Hall, which we hope she will better appreciate if re-elected. Consider, for instance, her abandoning the floor of council for a vote on ranked ballots last year, which nearly caused a related motion on permanent resident voting to fail entirely. There is enough concern about Fletcher’s experience as a councillor to at least consider other options.
However, Farrow does not impress us as that option—at least not yet. She says she’s running because Fletcher cannot beat Liz West, the conservative candidate who nearly beat Fletcher in 2010, and that she wants to provide Ward 30 voters with a real progressive alternative. Fair enough. Unfortunately, Farrow’s campaign has not shown the necessary heft. It’s been marked by events like an urban food walk with celebrity chef Jamie Kennedy: fun but unsubstantive, an attractive gimmick that appeals to socio-economically stable residents who have time to pursue interests like urban foraging but rather neglects the predicaments of constituents who struggle with more profound financial challenges.
This does not extend to one or two attention-grabbing events: in general her campaign and our conversations with her have been light on policy and heavy on platitudes about community-building. Farrow would, undoubtedly, bring a welcome energy to City Hall and inject some new ideas about how to engage with residents more effectively. But she would be a less reliable vote on key city-wide issues, such as preserving public sector jobs—sure to be a key battle in a John Tory or Doug Ford mayoralty. There is also the troubling matter of Farrow’s choice to work for Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York), a centrist councillor whose first term has been undistinguished.
Our conversations with Farrow have been animated by just the kind of spirit we’d like to see at City Hall but not enough substance to convince us she could channel that spirit effectively.
Fletcher is not the ideal incumbent. But she is the better guardian of social service programs, the stronger champion for the most vulnerable communities, and for that reason she still, flaws notwithstanding, has our backing.