3 min

Lefties duke it out

Phibbs, Fletcher could split vote

Credit: Joshua Meles

Can an out lesbian who’s done most of her City Hall work behind the scenes beat a high profile lefty who has the backing of the NDP? Or will the two lead candidates in Toronto’s Ward 30 merely split the left?

Those are the questions residents of the city’s other queer village are asking themselves looking into November’s municipal elections.

The area, which encompasses Riverdale, east Chinatown, Little India and the Danforth, is seen as a ward that’s up for grabs since long-time councillor Jack Layton left to become the leader of the federal New Democrats. The two leading candidates – Chris Phibbs, the lesbian, and Paula Fletcher, who has the NDP endorsement – square off against six other candidates, including a gay man and a far right Nationalist Party member who’s called the slogan “racism sucks” inappropriate and crude.

“The hard decision for a lot of people will be Phibbs and Fletcher, with both being strong progressive people with experience at City Hall,” says Kevin Perkins, executive director of the Riverdale Community Development Corporation. “There’s concern that they could split the progressive vote and Maureen Gilroy could win.”

Gilroy organized opposition to a proposed shelter for underhoused families and has the support of federal Liberal MP Dennis Mills – though Perkins points out that Mills’ increasingly unpopular opposition to same-sex marriage could work against Gilroy.

Phibbs, who has been executive assistant to Toronto City Councillor Kyle Rae for 11 years, is a long-time advocate for queer and social issues. She’s been program coordinator at the 519 Community Centre, has worked with non-profit housing in Peel, served on the board of the Hassle Free Clinic and the AIDS Committee Of Toronto and chaired Ontario’s Campaign For Equal Families in the mid-1990s.

“Phibbs has name recognition particularly among the gay and lesbian community here,” says Perkins, “but among other voters, I don’t think so.”

In her campaign so far, Phibbs has found that many of the concerns at the door are local, ward or street issues including litter, darkness in a particular laneway, safety in a local park, traffic, development and even water pressure.

The proposed airport expansion and fixed link for the Toronto Island are at the top of people’s minds. Though Phibbs backs Barbara Hall as mayor, she does not agree with Hall’s support of an expanded airport.

“I don’t think it’s necessary or helpful at our waterfront. We need a rail link to Pearson, not a fixed link,” says Phibbs.

Fletcher isn’t as vehement as Phibbs in her fixed link opposition.

“I don’t think it should be expanded,” says Fletcher. “There should be no jets going to the island airport and I’m concerned that a fixed link would mean that. If putting the fixed link means you are going to have jets then that’s a problem for me.”

Fletcher is married to John Cartwright, president of the Toronto And York Region Labour Council, who can bring the muscle of the labour unions to bear on the election. She was a very visible school trustee and has been endorsed by Layton and area MPP Marilyn Churley.

Like Phibbs, Fletcher also has City Hall experience as executive assistant to the late councillor Dan Leckie. Both candidates are close on many issues, including policing.

Says Fletcher: “I’d like to bring the police board and those in the association back into step with the overwhelming public sentiment. We need more partnerships with those who work in the community. We need to be more proactive than reactive.”

Says Phibbs: “This chief has decimated the community-based policing and pulled them back into cars. I think the communities are better served by officers who are on foot and on bikes, and I’ve seen this work in the downtown.”

Also running in the ward is a gay man, Sean Lough, a former Tory who worked on Kim Campbell’s leadership campaign going into the 1993 election. He supports a proactive crime management approach.

“If we’re using the parks, if there is high traffic in them, we don’t allow for crime activities to develop,” says Lough. “We need to ask what can we do to make an area safer, not afterwards but proactively. Can you put a light here, can we do a different type of landscaping here?”

On the other side of Ward 30’s political spectrum is Jim Brookman, who is supported by the Nationalist Party, an organization that’s been associated with white supremacist groups. Brookman wants to institute a “European Heritage Week” and on his website complains about the anti-racism graffiti he saw painted at Gerrard and Danforth.

“Racism Sucks, with its crude language, is inappropriate,” writes Brookman. “We don’t need this kind of vernacular painted on publicly-supported property.”

No one answered the phone at Brookman’s campaign office.

* Election day is Mon, Nov 10. For more information, check out