Toronto’s city council gathered for the first session of its new term Tuesday, welcoming four new members to the now 25-seat council.
The new faces include a public service veteran and three first-time councillors.
Mike Colle: Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence
Colle’s political career began in 1982 when he was elected to city council in the City of York and then Metro Toronto. He then served as MPP, first for Oakwood and then for Eglinton-Lawrence, from 1995 to 2018. He moves back to municipal politics as councillor for Ward 8 — Eglinton-Lawrence.
Brad Bradford: Ward 19, Beaches-East York
Bradford is an urban planner and one of the youngest members of council. He also serves on the board of the Danforth East Community Association, and prior to being elected he worked in the office of the chief city planner.
Cynthia Lai: Ward 23, Scarborough North
Prior to being elected to council, Lai has had a well established career in real estate. She is the founder of Global Link Realty Group Inc. and was the first Chinese-Canadian president of the Toronto Real Estate Board. She was also elected three times to serve on the board of the Real Estate Council of Ontario.
Jennifer McKelvie: Ward 25, Scarborough-Rouge Park
McKelvie is an environmental geoscientist. She was elected president of the Centennial Community and Recreation Association from 2015 to 2017, and president of the Scarborough Community Renewal Organization from 2016 to 2018.
CityNews spoke with each of them about their first day on the job and what comes next.
How was your first day as a Toronto city councillor?
Colle: “It’s very exciting. It’s very humbling. The very fact that you’ve actually been chosen to be here and represent 120,000 people. So, it’s a matter of being thankful and being excited.”
Bradford: “It was actually a little bit emotional coming into the council chamber with the bagpipes going and the smudging ceremony. You’re in the room with hundreds of supportive friends and family of all the councillors and it was just a very positive energy. I think the mayor’s comments really laid out both what’s at stake in this next term but also a sense of hope and opportunity.”
Lai: “I felt excited and a little bit overwhelmed because there is so much to learn. But all in all, I’m very happy and enjoying the process. I enjoy representing my constituents from Scarborough and I want to give it the best shot.”
McKelvie: “It was an incredible experience. I’m so excited to get to work for the residents of Scarborough-Rouge Park. I’ve been so welcomed by the other councillors and … they’re hearing what I have to say. That’s very refreshing.”
After a tumultuous election process, what was the dynamic like in council chambers?
Colle: “I think it was a combination of nervous excitement with some resignation — that we’re here and we’ve got the 25 and we’ve got to make the best of it.”
Bradford: “For me there’s a sense of relief. You put in all that work and energy … and now you’re finally here. Obviously this election — changing electoral boundaries in the middle of the election — that was not the right way to do it. But we do have a group of 25 elected officials who are obviously very committed to their communities and committed to working together to get things done.”
Lai: “There’s only 25 people talking instead of 47 people so it’s quite streamlined. All in all, I think people realize that perhaps 25 people is more efficient and more effective.”
McKelvie: “Certainly for the new folks we’ve never known council to be any other way. But it was fun to watch the other councillors commenting on how the back row is empty and questioning whether it was going to make the meeting shorter.”
Does it feel like this is a more agile council that will get more done, faster?
Colle: “I don’t think it’s got to do with the numbers. It’s got to do with the resolve of the members to work together with the mayor and as a team for the good of this incredible city. That’s what it’s going to take. What I’ve found in the past is that the key thing is that you’ve got people there putting the city ahead of their own personal viewpoints. It’s all about rolling up our sleeves for the city.”
Bradford: “I hope we have a council that’s really committed to working together for the benefit of the city of Toronto. We won’t always agree and there’s definitely a wide variety of perspectives and views … but I think that we all recognize there’s a lot at stake in this term when it comes to housing, when it comes to transit and we do need to find a way to move things forward. That may be more manageable with 25 councillors than it would’ve been with 47.”
Lai: “Whether we can get a lot more done will depend on whether all the council members operate as a team. I am a team player, and I think we need to advance Toronto in a way that we maintain Toronto as a world-class city that people want to invest in and come here for jobs (etc.).”
McKelvie: “I think this is definitely going to be a more agile city council, and I’m really excited about the debates that are going to go on as we unroll through the term.”
What are your thoughts about doubling the city staff operating budget following the province’s decision to reduce the size of council?
Colle: “We’ve got double the constituents … and the public needs to be heard and informed. You can’t do it without proper staff that’s going out to meet people, organize meetings. I can’t be everywhere. It’s no surprise to me we had to increase the budget. You have to give the communities the resources to be part of decision-making process. When you do something without consulting people … it doesn’t work out (in real life) as it seems to work out on paper … he (Premier Ford) should have asked before he did it.”
Bradford: “We cut the number of seats in half but we didn’t cut the population of Toronto in half. The expectation is to be there at the community meetings … that requires a level of interface with local councillors that’s much higher than any other levels of government. We need to make sure we have the resources in place to serve the constituents. Inevitably, there will be less back and forth between 25 councillors vs. 47 councillors. So staff will actually spend less time dealing with councillors. But if you’re looking at finding efficiencies strictly in office budgets or staff, that never made any sense.”
Lai: “At the end of the day, our ward is double the size. Those constituents need to be served. If we maintain the same budget, the people who are losing out are our constituents. We had 55 residents’ associations write to council, demanding that sufficient staff be maintained to provide services to the constituents. (The council cuts) work because at least we don’t have to pay a councillor. We pay staff. That is a necessity.”
McKelvie: “To me, what’s important is that we provide the very best customer service to our residents. I’m excited that we’re going to have some flexibility now in the budget to hire additional staff to meet our needs with the larger wards.”
What is your first order of business as a city councillor?
Colle: “My first order of business is to get the City of Toronto to ask for the right to have a say on where these thousands of marijuana shops are going to go in our neighbourhoods. We have no say. I’m worried about these shops opening up everywhere — next to libraries, playground, mental health facilities. We have to have a say in where these retail outlets go or else we’re going to lose control of our main streets and we’ve got a lot of vulnerable main streets. So we’ve got to confront the province on this.”
Bradford: “Unfortunately a number of weeks ago there was a bridge collapse in the Crescent Town community at Massey Square. I will be bringing forward a motion to identify which parties were responsible for that and understand what steps we can take in the future to prevent something like that from ever happening again. As we move forward with more privately owned public spaces, we need to make sure we have the regulations and the processes in place to make sure that these spaces are not in state of disrepair and in fact safe for everybody that’s using them.”
Lai: “I want to make sure we have good transit and to move the transit file on. (My ward) is in the most north-eastern part of Toronto and I want to make sure my constituents coming down, their commute time is decreased. That’s one of my priorities I want to bring to the table.”
McKelvie: “I’m really interested in tackling the safe school zones. I already have quite a few calls from some schools in particular that have had issues with shortages of crossing guards and concerns about speeds (in school zones) so that’s going to be high on our priority list.”