Ben Bergen, a late-game arrival to the Ward 27 council race, is making a big pitch for the Church-Wellesley Village.
“I would like for us to build a summer promenade on Church St,” he says, “to remove parked cars here and extend the boardwalk out and then create extra patio space for restaurants, bars and clubs.”
The wood-plank sidewalk extensions would be added for the four summer months, displacing about 60 parking spaces between Wood and Dundonald streets. Bergen hopes the promenade would increase civic engagement, entice locals to return to the Village and promote the area as a tourist destination.
Although he hasn’t broached the idea with the Church-Wellesley Business Improvement Area, and response from local businesses has been slow so far, he’s taken his campaign to YouTube, producing a short video in support of the promenade.
He would also push for another nightlife improvement — extending liquor licences to 4am. Late-night hours mean patron departures are spread out over time, preventing thousands of tipsy patrons from being ejected onto Toronto streets at the same time. It would also, he admits, temper the city’s reputation as a stuffy, no-fun town.
Bergen’s entry into the race means there are five queer council candidates — not four, as previously reported in Xtra. He filed his papers in early September, narrowly beating the deadline for getting on the ballot.
Like most of the queer candidates, Bergen says that controversial groups like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid should be allowed to march in the Pride parade.
“Freedom of speech comes first, so I do believe that the group had a right to be in the parade,” he says. “The only time I think speech should be limited is when the message is X should kill Y.”
“The city gives money for a forum of debate about sexuality and identity. It doesn’t actually fund specific organizations to run floats. So if you’re going to have a broad dialogue, you need people, whether they be fringe members or mainstream members, you need them to be involved in the dialogue.”
It’s not an easy road to hoe for Bergen. Many residents had already picked a candidate, he admits, with opinion largely solidified — especially between Kristyn Wong-Tam and Ken Chan — by the time he entered the race.
“Politics is somewhat of a craft, so learning from it, learning how to reach people, learning how to engage, I think that was really the goal of running this time. It’s something that took me a bit of time, and a bit of persuasion from friends and my boyfriend, to decide whether or not to run. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had started earlier.”
Although he wishes he’d got a better head start, the 25-year-old former Ward 27 resident — and undergraduate at the University of Toronto — says he’s glad he threw his hat in the ring.
Find out more about Ben Bergen at votebenbergen.ca.