it's no secret that right-wing councillors and residents' groups oppose homeless shelters in their wards. But are progressive politicians who cave in at the first sign of ratepayer rage any better?That's what NDP candidate Janet Davis did recently during the Beaches-East York (Ward 31) by-election, which she lost in the end to right-wing tax accountant Mike Tziretas by 54 votes.
At a meeting hosted by Danforth East Action Committee (DEAC), a collection of business folk and homeowners opposed to the proposed Dixon Hall shelter at 2714 Danforth, Davis swallowed her principles and primly kept her opinions to herself.
While Tziretas told the meeting at the Dawes Road Legion Hall that he was opposed not only to this facility but also to "any new shelters in the city,' Davis deftly shifted the burden to the city. "I know that it (the shelter) is controversial, and that this community found out about it with no consultation. What I understand is that the city has the final say.'
Well, yeah. The 1984 bylaw does ensure that the city can put shelters anywhere it needs. But does that mean politicians dedicated to the public good should wimp out when it comes to challenging the mob on its compassion deficit? When asked if she has second thoughts a week later, she merely repeats that the matter is in the hands of city staff.
Jack Layton explains the bylaw's purpose this way: "It ensures, if we have some sort of disaster, that the city can open shelters for people. When we have a disaster, we can't wait for a zoning bylaw hearing.' But Layton also points to an unintended consequence of the bylaw: councillors who support shelters put up a show of opposing them to appease angry residents groups, knowing full well that the city will overrule them.
"Most councillors know that if controversy arose, they could oppose the facility and council would go ahead anyway,' says Layton, faultlessly honest in these matters.
But anti-shelter types might get the last laugh at mealy-mouth progressives. According to DEAC lawyer Kim Kovar, the group intends to argue that the proposed shelter is not a hostel but rather a "crisis-care facility" and is therefore not protected by the bylaw. Layton dismisses this as "legal footsie.' But Dixon Hall's Leslie Gash worries this might put a freeze on new shelters. The outcome of the legal bid remains to be seen, but if this bout of selfishness wins, cowardly progressives might finally be forced to say what they mean.