Moscoes ghost haunts

The Eglinton-Lawrence ward is the kind of place that challenges the notion of a Toronto distinctly divided between suburbs and core.

Ward 15 has downtown as well as suburban elements, rich and poor, highways and subways. It’s a kind of a swing ward that way, and whoever is elected councillor there will be a gauge of the city’s mood going forward.

The council race there, which became wide open when incumbent councillor Howard Moscoe announced his retirement in August, is now chiefly between former Catholic school board trustee Josh Colle and current trustee Rob Davis.

Davis, a former city councillor who’s back running after having served on council in both York and the newly amalgamated city representing part of the current ward, says he would have liked to face Moscoe on October 25.

Davis is traditionally conservative, a nemesis of anything the ebullient former councillor said or did (as vice-chair of the TTC, Davis constantly tangled with then-chair Moscoe), and a law-and-order guy who established Canada’s first gun buy-back program.

The former Mel Lastman ally laments that he’s not going mano-a-mano against his old antagonist. “We’re not able to hold Howard Moscoe accountable for all the damage he did in the community,” says Davis, who’s now the closest thing to an incumbent the ward has.

“Moscoe supported the car tax, the garbage tax, the land transfer tax, most of the 40 per cent tax increases that occurred over the last nine years,” says Davis, a tax foe who nevertheless believes the city is on a “collision course with financial ruin.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Moscoe has endorsed Colle. An executive at an energy and infrastructure development firm, Colle is hard to pin down on the political spectrum. He’s a liberal but has a Mel Lastman endorsement in his pocket. And he’s got the nod from Lib MPP Greg Sorbara and lefty Joe Mihevc.

Colle wants better access on and off the Allen Road, a daily $10 TTC family pass, a satellite police station in Lawrence Heights and – this is a hot one for sure – a publicly elected TTC chair.

He’s also running on a “families first” platform. Thankfully it’s not in that insipid “family values” kind of way. He explains it’s more about families of all stripes being able to afford to live in the city. “I want to keep people in our neighbourhoods, as opposed to forcing people out to the suburbs,” he explains.

Colle and Davis are without question the leaders in the race, but candidate Tony Evangelista, a retired city planner, deserves a look as well. With his civil service background, he’s extremely well versed in the finer details and knows well that politics and policy don’t always go hand in hand.

Massive infrastructure projects are on the horizon for Ward 15, with two dominating the political agenda: the Lawrence Heights revitalization and the Eglinton LRT.

The Transit City line would touch 16 wards, so it’s not just a local issue, but in an area that includes sections of Allen, Lawrence and Eglinton and borders on the 401, transportation (or “traffic,” depending on your perspective) is a major issue.

The LRT line itself hasn’t figured much in the campaign, however. All the major contenders back the plan in principle – particularly since the section that runs through Ward 15 will be underground, which means there’s little fear of a St. Clair-style debacle here.

Says Colle, “I remind a lot of people who say, We want subways, not streetcars,’ that this will be as fast as the Bloor/Danforth line. It’s underground, and the station spacing is the same, so really we’re getting a subway.”

Lawrence Heights is another story altogether.

“The biggest issue is the Lawrence Heights development,” says Davis unequivocally of the proposal passed by council in July to replicate the Regent Park model by converting the public housing project into a mixed-income community.

“City council is going to privatize wholesale a big chunk of publicly-owned land and add the equivalent of 20,000 residents.

“There’s not enough road capacity to accommodate the 42,000 car trips that will emanate from the development, and there are high schools that are operating at 200 per cent,” says Davis. “This is checkbook-planning at its worst.

“If I’m elected the plan is dead.”

On the revitalization, Evangelista says, “It needs to be done, should be done and will be done. The question is how.” He is also concerned about the increased density – the number of units would increase to 7,500 from the existing 1,200.

Colle, too, defends the plan. “They all want to talk about traffic or density, but those are issues that we should and can work through.

“I think the density is too much,” he says, but adds, “There’s also the political reality of something that passed 41 to 3 at council. Even if you get 10 or 15 new councillors, it’s a bit of a leap in logic that they’re all going to immediately be against it and vote to reopen it.”

He says, “The status quo in Lawrence Heights is unacceptable.”

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