Most candidates who joined the first live forum of the Ward 32 council race made sure to cross the ‘T’’s – transit and traffic. Those two issues drew the most questions and detailed answers at the open-floor forum hosted by Applegrove Community Complex on Oct. 2.
Beach resident Adam Smith told the nine candidates on stage that the Queen streetcar can take half an hour just to go from Neville Park to Woodbine Avenue.
Given that new TTC streetcars won’t roll onto Queen until 2016, he asked what can council do beforehand?
“I’m committed to a 10-minute streetcar and bus service, which we are estimating at the city right now,” said Mary-Margaret McMahon, the current councillor.
McMahon also pledged extra buses, express buses, and improved GPS gear on buses and streetcars to reduce the number of short turns.
Back in 2010, McMahon was elected on a platform that included community engagement, green initiatives, and term limits at city hall. Now, if reelected, she promises to focus on transit and congestion.
“We basically need a comprehensive plan for Toronto, with dedicated funding attached to it, and the politicians to stop meddling and stop touching it to get the city moving once and for all,” she said.
Sandra Bussin, who served as Ward 32 councillor from 1998 to 2010, got her loudest applause of the night when defending Transit City, a light-rail network plan that was first proposed by former mayor David Miller in 2006, but scrapped by Mayor Rob Ford in 2010.
“It’s been four lost years,” Bussin said. “Bring back Transit City, which was a fully funded program that would get more people out of their cars.”
As for long rides on the Queen streetcar, Bussin said she did bring in a program that called for extra TTC inspectors along the line to watch for bunching, but it was cut in 2010.
Carmel Suttor, a writer and retired French teacher who helped start the local advocacy group ForWard32, said that if elected she will support a recent TTC plan that called for $288 million in transit improvements over the next five years.
The plan includes all-door boarding for all streetcars, more overnight routes and transfer tickets good for two hours.
“There is a high price for low taxes,” said Suttor, referring to TTC cuts made by council. “We’re further behind and further in debt, and our commutes are way longer.”
Candidate Eric de Boer, who owns and operates his own heavy transport truck, presented a traffic improvement of his own design – making King and Queen one-way streets that go in opposite directions through the downtown core. With dedicated bike lanes to one side, de Boer called it a smart “value-for-money” idea that would take little more than paint, signs, lights and bolt-down curbs.
Other ideas for transit improvement included de Boer’s call for combining short north-south bus routes through the ward, and East Beach Community Association President Alan Burke’s pledges to extend rush-hour parking prohibitions on Queen Street and add commuter parking at the Danforth GO station.
While most of the debate at Applegrove was a polite exchange of policy ideas — affordable housing, condo development, and electoral reform were also discussed — the civility got badly bruised by self-titled “anti-Marxist” candidate James Sears, a former doctor whose medical license was revoked for sexual misconduct.
Sears swore several times, made lewd remarks, ranted against a “gay mafia” and spoke about his business, Toronto Real Men, which advertises ways to help men seduce women.
In the first open-floor question of the night, a resident quoted lewd writing on the site and asked “Do you really expect a sane person to actually vote for you?”
Sears then defended his business as “heterosexual advocacy.”
“I believe that society is emotionally and chemically and psychologically castrating men,” he said.
At one point, Sears’ language had a dad in the audience hugging both his kids to his sides and covering their free ears with both hands.