Duking it out on campaign trail

Sporting a bright green T-shirt marked ‘mmm good!,’ councillor Mary Margaret-McMahon calls out as her bicycle bumps over cracked and potholed pavement by Main Street Library.

“You see how bad the road is? I bumped up the road resurfacing on Main,” she says. “We’d heard complaints, but it was also because we bike there.”

Mary-Margaret McMahon and her campaign team stop by Joe Cirrone's grocery on Queen Street on Oct. 14. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
Mary-Margaret McMahon and campaign volunteers stop outside Joe Cirone’s grocery on Queen Street on Oct. 14.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Before she was elected councillor in 2010, McMahon’s political roots lay in a new farmer’s market, an anti-pesticide petition, and family history – her father, Ron Emo, is a former mayor of Collingwood.

And in her rookie campaign for Ward 32, McMahon matched her green streak with a blue one, promising fiscal responsibility.

She also promised to get Beach residents more involved in city planning, and to bring term limits to city hall.

But in four years, McMahon has hit her share of rough patches at city hall.

Council voted down her term-limits motion, despite its endorsement by the Toronto Star. And while McMahon did champion a citizen-led Visioning Study that resulted in new building guidelines for Queen Street East, that $200,000 effort and a resulting 10-day legal battle failed to stop the Ontario Municipal Board from approving six-storey condos at Queen and Woodbine last winter.

Last week, after cycling down to Queen Street to watch McMahon and her team canvass “Mount Neville” (or Neville Park Boulevard, where some houses have 50-plus steps to the door), Beach Metro News caught up with former councillor Sandra Bussin’s campaign in the hallways and elevators of the Main Square apartment towers.

Sandra Bussin, centre, pauses for a photo with campaign volunteers outside Main Square on Oct. 14. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
Sandra Bussin, centre, pauses for a photo with campaign volunteers outside Main Square on Oct. 14.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Here in the north end of the ward along Danforth Avenue, Bussin’s first door question isn’t about condos, but swimming – she asks a ninth-floor resident if she ever goes down to Main Square Recreation Centre, a pool and gym that Bussin championed as councillor.

After going over her plans to eliminate all fees and forms for low-income families to use the facility, Bussin had the woman’s support.

“Part of the job is to get new projects, new money for the community,” said Bussin, taking a break to answer questions.

She listed a Beaches Library renovation, the recreation centres at Fairmount Park and Main Square, and the Ashbridges Bay skateboard park among the projects she secured in her 13 years as councillor.

Since then, she said, “I haven’t seen anything major.”

As for the Queen Street condos, Bussin said McMahon is “somebody who’s learning the ropes, dealing with a significant issue that’s now precedent-setting.”

Bussin noted that the timing of the Visioning Study wasn’t the only reason the OMB approved the two condos – a heritage designation was not made for the historic Kew fire hall, which McMahon, city lawyers, and a residents’ group argued would be partly hidden by the six-storey condos.

“From here to eternity, the clocktower is going to be obscured,” Bussin said. “And the rules that came with that particular development will now set a benchmark at that corner.”

Bussin also criticized McMahon’s signature proposal – term limits – as an American idea that makes no sense for Toronto.

“When you have experienced people who know how to get things done for the community, why would you say they can’t run again?” she asked. “Part of what you’ve got to do at city hall is work with city staff. If they think you’re gone in four years, they won’t make it very easy for you.”

Policy aside, Bussin and McMahon have clashed on a more two-dimensional issue – election signs.

On Twitter, McMahon’s staff complained that the “Time for a Fresh Start?” slogan on a billboard Bussin put up earlier this year for her real estate business had a dual use for politicking.

Bussin said the city’s licensing department cleared it as a bona fide real estate sign.

“I could have left it up, but to make Ms. McMahon happy, I’m happy to put up an election sign,” she said.

The new billboard is a standard campaign ad that reads “Sandra Bussin, City Councillor.” There is also a quote on the sign that reads, “‘A Seasoned Voice’ … Toronto Star.”

Asked if she thought the “seasoned voice” quote is incorrectly attributed to the Star since it was something Bussin said to a Star reporter in an interview, Bussin said no.

“It’s their choice to put in those words,” she said.

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