2016 Villain: Glenn De Baeremaeker
Nominated for: small-minded, one-track politics that do a disservice to Scarborough and Toronto.
Torontoist is reflecting on 2016 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 11:59 p.m. on January 5. At noon on January 6, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
When Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre), was first elected to Toronto City Council in 2003, he was known for his environmental activism; his work helped to preserve the Rouge Valley, the Oak Ridges Moraine, and the Frank Faubert Woodlot at Scarborough Town Centre. Once upon a time, he might have been a Torontoist hero. Things have changed.
De Baeremaeker’s record of environmentalism has been overshadowed by an increasingly antagonistic tone, pitting supposedly downtrodden Scarborough against the rest of the city in his one-track quest to build a one-stop subway extension to his ward. In his myopic support of the subway, De Baremaeker is opportunistic and vindictive, takes the low road, insults critics who engage in good faith debates, and in the process does a disservice to the community he represents.
Before he became a subway fundamentalist, De Baeremaker supported Transit City, the transit plan championed by David Miller that would have delivered three new light rail lines to Scarborough. But in 2012, taking advantage of the leadership vacuum at City Hall and a shaky provincial Liberal minority government, De Baeremaeker persuaded the TTC to study the subway. Soon all Scarborough City Councillors (with the notable exception of Paul Ainslie [Ward 43, Scarborough East]), seeking re-election, persuaded the City to reject the provincially-funded LRT and endorse a three-stop subway instead.
John Tory, in the interest of securing Scarborough votes and allies on city council, backed the subway plan and picked De Baeremaeker as one of his four Deputy Mayors. As the costs mounted, and as the subway conflicted with Tory’s own pet transit project, SmartTrack, the subway was pared down to a $3.2 billion for a single stop.
In defence of this plan, De Baeremaeker continues to antagonize his critics and insults the very community that he serves. Scarborough residents, he says, “[would] rather be masters in their own house than a slave in the megacity.” And according to De Baeremaeker, “Scarborough is the last in line; the poorest, least developed part of Toronto.”
This rhetoric does not do Scarborough justice; it’s a large and diverse part of the City of Toronto, with dozens of unique neighbourhoods from the Scarborough Bluffs to Rouge Park. While Scarborough does need better transit access, the light rail lines De Baeremaeker used to support would achieve that goal better than one subway stop. His myths about Scarborough are largely untrue, and in both policies and rhetoric, he doesn’t do the community justice.
There are many city councillors that could have made worthy villains, but for his single-minded focus on an unnecessary transit project, combined with a nasty, unhelpful tone, Councillor De Baeremaker is a standout.