Candidates for Ontario’s June election only get four weeks to give you a reason, not only to vote for them, but to vote at all.
Turnout dipped to 49 per cent in the last Ontario election – a record low.
That figure was a couple points higher here in Beaches-East York, but still, the three candidates who are registered so far will need compelling ideas if they want to draw voters off the beach or out of the garden on June 12.
Nicolas Johnson, candidate for the Ontario PC Party, says he expected commute times and urban development to be top priorities, but he got a surprise when he started canvassing a few weeks ago.
“The single biggest issue I’m hearing about is jobs, and the cost of living,” said Johnson, adding that rising electricity rates are a standout concern, especially for older people on a fixed income.
Johnson, 43, is a journalist who covers business and finance, most recently for the Globe and Mail. He returned to Toronto in 2011 after a dozen years in Paris and Tokyo, where he worked for Bloomberg News.
Before this election campaign, the Beach’s most common lawn sign was one that shows a monster condo roaring over a stretch of older buildings on Queen Street.
Johnson agrees housing development is an issue here – he went to a recent Queen’s Park hearing for an NDP bill that would have removed Toronto from the oversight of the Ontario Municipal Board, a real-estate tribunal.
“Community groups feel they’re not being heard,” he said.
But Johnson said reformers should focus not on the OMB, but the city plan that guides it.
“The OMB is like a court, like a referee,” he said. “If the rules are within the Official Plan, and there are no grounds to reject them, then the OMB basically has to approve them.”
Arthur Potts, candidate for the Ontario Liberal Party, has a different take.
“Gridlock is the number-one issue,” he said, noting that the Liberals’ recently defeated budget would have invested heavily in Toronto transit.
As for the OMB, Potts said it needs to be restructured, but not abolished, which would open the door to NIMBY-ism.
“You need sober second thought on planning decisions, because it’s too fraught with political interference,” he said.
Potts, 57, co-founded a company that recycled discarded pallets and other waste-wood into products like mulch and particle board.
Since 1994, he has worked as a consultant for businesses dealing mainly with waste management and recycling.
Potts has campaigned before, finishing second to Peter Tabuns in Toronto’s 1994 city council election. He also worked for two years as an executive assistant to Metro councillor Anne Johnston.
Surrounded by fellow Liberals at his May 8 nomination, Potts said he sees Beaches-East York as a key swing riding for his party, though he admits it will not be easy to unseat the NDP’s Michael Prue, who Beach and East York voters have elected to Queen’s Park four times since 2001.
That didn’t stop Phillipe Murphy Rheaume, vice-president of the Liberal riding association, from sending some brave words his way:
“On June 12, we’ll finally send Michael Prue and his sweater packing.”
Prue’s trademark sweater was nowhere to be seen when Beach Metro News visited his campaign office last week.
The former East York mayor and incumbent NDP MPP was in shirtsleeves, still getting his office ready to go on day one of the 36-day campaign.
Asked for the standout issue in Beaches-East York, Prue said it all depends what part of the riding you’re standing in.
“All politics is local,” he said.
In the Beach, the big issues are how to preserve Queen Street’s small-town feel and reform the Ontario Municipal Board.
In the last session, Prue put forward a bill that would give Toronto planners a full year before developers could launch an OMB appeal, rather than four months.
Prue also supported a bill by fellow NDP MPP Rosario Marchese that would remove Toronto from OMB jurisdiction.
“It was sad because the City of Toronto asked, with a near-unanimous vote, for the authority to set up their own appeal mechanism,” he said, adding that the OMB is “an anachronistic, horrible body.”
“I favour abolishing it for all large municipalities,” he said.
In the Upper Beach north of Kingston Road, Prue said seniors’ care, poverty, and immigration services become larger issues. Along the Danforth, he said many waiters, hairdressers, and other service workers would benefit from his bill to prevent owners from collecting part of their tips – a bill that had all-party support, but died on the order paper when the election was called.
In the former East York, where Prue was first elected as a councillor in 1988, and then mayor, he said the key issues are overcrowding in schools, the lack of a French high school, and the roll-out of all-day kindergarten.
Prue, 65, notes that he is the only candidate of the three major parties who actually lives in the Beaches-East York riding.
“I think it’s important that you understand your community,” he said. “I can tell you where every street is. I know faces from everywhere, not always names.”
Prue said in his five years as mayor of East York, he had no tax increases, paid off the city’s debt, and built new infrastructure.
As an MPP, he has served as the NDP’s finance critic, and said it’s unconscionable that Ontario is running such large deficits that debt servicing is now the third-highest expense.
“I live the dream,” he said. “I would like us to be government, and I would like to be finance minister.”
“I think I could turn this place around.”