How do you leave a mark on the beach?
That question – how to improve Ward 32’s waterfront – sparked many ideas and a few fireworks when ten Toronto council candidates met for an Oct. 7 debate at St. John’s Norway Church.
Put mall-style signs by the boardwalk to show visitors all the Queen Street shops nearby, said first-time candidate Eric de Boer.
Renovate Kew Cottage so it can host a locally-run cafe, de Boer added, and allow tours of the marble-floored R.C. Harris water plant in tourist season.
Former Ward 32 councillor Sandra Bussin said the city needs to do more to clean polluted water by the Ashbridges Bay sewage plant, and suggested affordable learn-to-sail classes in beach parks.
Current councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said both the Leuty Pavilion and Donald D. Summerville pool got major upgrades on her watch, and another is coming for the Woodbine bathing station. She also highlighted the new stroller- and wheelchair-friendly walkway over the sand at Woodbine beach.
Such answers won polite applause from the 250-person crowd at St. John’s.
But it was Carmel Suttor’s response that got howls and cheers.
“I think we need more than one place to eat on the beach,” she said, smiling.
Suttor was referring to a key local issue in the 2010 election – a 20-year, sole-sourced contract for food services in Ward 32 beach parks that council signed with Tuggs Inc., owner of the former Boardwalk Cafe and now Paralia restaurant, against staff advice.
Suttor, a retired teacher and founder of the ForWard32 advocacy group, suggested that if city council can reverse a multi-million dollar plan for Scarborough rapid transit, it should find out the cost to break the restaurant deal.
Neither Bussin, who was councillor during the Tuggs deal, nor McMahon, who won the following election, spoke much about the hot topic four years ago.
Half the debate questions dealt with transit or traffic, and it was on a transit issue that Bussin used her ‘wildcard’ to challenge McMahon. Every candidate at the debate had a wildcard they could raise once to directly challenge a rival.
“Councillor McMahon, I have the votes here, you voted twice for a subway,” said Bussin, referring to a Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway that council recently voted to build instead of a previously agreed plan for light rail.
McMahon did vote against the Scarborough subway in the final vote. She said the two votes Bussin referred to were requests for more information on how the city would fund it.
“Sandra, you might want to get your un-factual flyers straightened out,” she said.
But Bussin didn’t accept that answer.
“You knew how it was going to be funded,” she said. “That’s dishonest.”
Other candidates also raised cards to challenge McMahon.
Brian Graff, who fought several Beach-area condo projects for being out of scale with the neighbourhood, said the new Beach building guidelines McMahon championed during her term are actually weaker on height restrictions than earlier ones.
“Believe me, you’re going to get much bigger buildings,” he said.
Suttor took a different tack. After saying she thought McMahon has a 90 per cent chance of winning, she challenged McMahon to take on bigger issues, such as poverty or transit, than her proposed two-term limit for city councillors.
“I don’t think term limits is enough” she said.
For her part, McMahon used her wildcard to challenge candidate Alan Burke after he said some local BIA leaders lack business skills.
“I find that highly offensive,” she said, adding that the area’s BIAs and business associations are made up of volunteers who work tirelessly on beautifying streets and shop-local campaigns.
Although the wildcards were all played, McMahon did make one parting shot in her closing remarks – she said her four-year term actually started a bit early, saying Bussin left her office just days after losing the 2010 election.
Bussin stood up and tried to take the mic from McMahon’s hands to rebut that point before the debate moderator stepped in, leading to shouts and boos in the audience.