Three months before campaigns start for Toronto’s 2014 election, former councillor Sandra Bussin is testing the waters for a political comeback in Beaches-East York.
“I’ve been approached by a number of residents saying they’re very unhappy with what’s happening at the city and urging me to run again,” Bussin said. “That’s where it started.”
Now a sales rep with Forest Hill Real Estate, Bussin was a deputy mayor, speaker and TTC commissioner during her 13 years at city hall. She said Beach voters are used to having an experienced, high-profile councillor.
But Bussin lost to a rookie candidate in 2010, when community activist Mary-Margaret McMahon won 15,159 votes to her 5,998 – a 30 per cent margin of victory. By the end, three of Bussin’s seven other challengers dropped out to support McMahon.
Several weeks ago, pollsters at Forum Research phoned 400 voters in Ward 32 and predicted a similar result – 61 per cent said they would re-elect McMahon, while 14 per cent said Bussin. About a quarter had no opinion.
Bussin cheerfully dismissed the poll, given the rightward lean of the newspaper that paid for it.
“Well I laughed when I heard about it,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine that I would get any positive result out of the Toronto Sun.”
Asked what issues people in Ward 32 are likely to vote on next October, Bussin said the many “Save Queen Street” signs she has seen on people’s lawns since Christmas show development is a hot topic here.
Indeed, this fall and winter, the Ontario Municipal Board will consider plans to build two six-storey condos along Queen Street, one on either side of Woodbine Avenue.
In 2012, Councillor McMahon led a study that asked residents, planners and developers to create guidelines to protect the character of Queen Street in the Beach, a guide she calls “the Beach Bible.”
City council approved the guidelines, but they will be challenged at the OMB, as will their timing – both developers submitted their plans before the guidelines were adopted.
“They’re guidelines, just that,” said Bussin. “They’re not even a bylaw.”
Bussin said the guidelines are too modest, noting that she would prefer a lower height limit to the three-storey street wall and setback upper floors set out in the guidelines, which allow for four or five storeys along most of Queen, and six storeys in a few places.
“I don’t think developers would be coming forward with the proposals that they are if I were there,” she said.
Bussin said voters are also concerned by the rising cost to own or rent a home in Ward 32, adding that the city should return to earmarking certain properties for specific types of housing.
As for Councillor McMahon’s proposal to limit city councillors to a total of three four-year terms, Bussin said it was an American idea and too inflexible.
“Experience, knowledge and background can be lost with very hard and fast, arbitrary rules,” she said.
Beyond the ward, Bussin said if re-elected she will work to bring back the city-wide Transit City plan she said was derailed by cutbacks from Mayor Rob Ford.
“Everybody loves a subway, but what does that do to the rest of the network that is necessary for the economic life of this city?”
Bussin also took shots at how Ford handled the most controversial issue of her council career – the sole-sourced, 20-year vending contract she and other councillors negotiated with George Foulidis’s Tuggs Inc. in 2010.
Since 1986, Tuggs Inc. has operated the Boardwalk Pub, now Trinity Taverna and Athens Pastries Café, and handled all food sales by Kew Gardens, D.D. Summerville Pool and the rest of the eastern beaches.
Bussin noted that while Ford argued against Tuggs’ no-bid contract as “gravy train” spending, he voted in favour of a similar one for Grenadier Group, which operates all food sales in High Park and the western beaches, from the Humber River to the Palais Royale.
“There’s a little bit of hypocrisy here where one gets drawn through the head of a needle and the other is approved on council floor without any background information,” she said.
Noting that Foulidis built the Boardwalk Pub and its business, Bussin said she rejected city staffers’ call for an open tender because he ran the most profitable food sales of any vendor working on city land. She also said an open tender risked super-size development.
“A lot of the suburban councillors just look at revenue,” she said. “When Councillor Ford came into office, he talked about a Ferris wheel down at the waterfront.”
“But in hindsight,” she said later, “My life would have been a hell of a lot easier if it had gone through a tendering process.”
Asked about her legacy as a councillor, Bussin said she is proud of ending sewage incineration at Ashbridges Bay, adding insurance for Beach homeowners at risk of basement flooding, renovating the Beaches Library, getting the Beach Skateboard Park built and returning the Gardener’s and Maple Cottage to the community.
Bussin said she is still talking to Beach residents to gauge whether or not she will enter the race, adding that she will decide closer to the official campaign start, which is Jan. 2.