The gay neighbourhood may sometimes be regarded as being in the forefront of change when it comes to sex, culture, fashion and general flamboyance. But in municipal politics its home, Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale, is a model of stability.
Never seriously challenged since he won the ward in 1991, Councillor Kyle Rae was acclaimed in 2000, and won in 2003 by more than 10,000 votes over his closest competition, Enza “Supermodel” Anderson.
Rae came to city council as a well-known gay community activist and remains Toronto’s only openly gay councillor. Rae has led the city’s efforts to combat AIDS and fought for safe injection sites. He’s also largely responsible for obtaining Buddies In Bad Times’ current city-owned space.
In his last term, Rae has faced increasing criticism. He’s been accused of being out of touch with his constituents. He’s been attacked by both ends of the political spectrum, on one hand for not pushing for more affordable housing, and on the other for not doing enough to crack down on drug users and panhandlers in the gay ghetto.
Rae has come under particular fire for what many perceive as his willingness to approve almost any sort of development in the riding, particularly large condominiums. His alleged pro-development views have led to him being targeted in this election by the antidevelopment Coalition For Municipal Change.
Rae has responded by saying that he has opposed a number of developments and blocked condos in low-density areas, but that the building of high-density housing in downtown Toronto is inevitable. He also says that he’s been able to get developers to make significant contributions to improving the quality of life of neighbourhoods.
Many residents have firsthand experience with Rae, but what about his seven challengers this time? Here are a few snapshots.
Candidate Daniel Young provided no contact information on his application for office. Carol Golench, who has been endorsed by the Coalition For Municipal Change, did not return Xtra’s request for an interview.
Bezanson, a member of the liaison committees to the police department and to the fire chief, and chair of two residents’ groups, runs his own paralegal business. He says his background qualifies him to fight for the rights of those who most need help.
“I’ve always been there for the underdog. I come from extreme poverty. At a very young age, my family broke up. I was on the street at 11. I had some encounters that caused me to smarten up very quickly.”
Bezanson, who grew up in Halifax, says he’s seen the village’s character decline in the nine years he’s lived in the ward.
“Nobody’s paying attention to our unique communities and villages. This village goes back to the history of gays in Canada. Church St should represent that, not, as Mr Rae would like, all condos down here.”
Bezanson says that queers have seen no tangible benefit from all the development, and are still paying more than their fair share.
“Looking at the overdevelopment in Ward 27 in the past five years, there’s millions of dollars. Why are our taxes going up? I’m tired of us being taken advantage of because we’re gay, because we’re supposedly single and wealthy.”
Gapka is a familiar figure as a trans activist with the 519 Community Centre and Egale Canada, as well as an AIDS activist. She also has some experience with City Hall, having served on the lesbian, gay, bisexual trans issues committee (which has now been superseded by a wider-based human rights committee).
“I’ve been working with community organizations along Church St since I came out as a trans woman in 1998. I actually came out when I was doing an internship with [former] councillor Olivia Chow.
“As a trans woman, I think I could be a good role model. Really, we’re not that well-represented in government.”
Gapka says her experience as a trans woman has certainly helped to make her aware of the discrimination faced by the trans community on such basic matters as housing.
“There should be a priority for low-income, transgender and transsexual people when it comes to housing.”
Gapka says that since her campaign began she has learned about the problems faced by small businesses in the ward.
“I met with a number of them. I walked up and down Yonge St and I discovered a diversity of small businesses. A lot of people really felt that the bigger businesses are squeezing out the smaller.”
Johnson says his experience as a business administrator and controller — he runs his own business, as well as sitting on the board of directors for a book-publishing company — has left him fed up with the way City Hall operates.
“When you run a business, the bottom line is always money. You can’t be spending wastefully.”
Johnson, a Church-Wellesley resident for 16 years, says he’s also disgusted by the wage increase city councillors voted themselves this year.
“I’ll take that $8,000 and split it into two scholarships: one for a high-school student and one for someone with HIV or AIDS.”
Johnson says his major areas of concern are with public transit — he wants lower fares and off-peak reduced fares — and overdevelopment.
“With development, we need more mixed-use development. The street I live in has some nice condos, seven and eight storeys. But now we have a 45-storey building going up. The city has done no studies on what the development has done to infrastructure.”
Johnson’s website offers no mention of his male partner of 19 years.
“That will be rectified,” says Johnson.
Leroux teaches design at York University and has run his own graphic design business for 25 years. He was born and raised in downtown Toronto, and has lived in the ward for the past 20 years.
He’s done volunteer work on various city committees looking at Toronto’s drug strategy and at the redevelopment of Cawthra Square Park. He’s also a long-time volunteer with The 519, the police liaison committee and with seniors.
These perspectives, he says, has made the decline in the area particularly noticeable to him. He attributes this to Rae growing apart from the community.
“The whole area has really fallen apart because of the lack of direction by the current councillor.”
Leroux says overdevelopment is destroying the entire ward.
“I’m seeing very little character in our condos. There needs to be some architectural charm and charisma. We have an official plan for development, but our current councillor seems to think it’s a guideline and he can change it any time he wants.”
Leroux adds that the infrastructure and transit hasn’t kept up with the increase in development.
“We have over 1,800 water-main breaks a year. Aboveground, the roads are in absolutely terrible condition. When we’re intensifying the communities, how are they dealing with police, fire and ambulances?
But he doesn’t see any specific city issues for the queer community, except keeping an eye on Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“There are, of course, issues for trans people and those are ongoing.”
Safety issues in the community are also a concern.
“We need to increase the movement of police, whether by foot, car or horse. The safety of our parks in this area, I’ve seen a lot of crackheads.”
Reid, a structural engineer, is originally from small-town Ontario. He graduated from Queen’s University in 2004 and moved to Toronto.
Reid says he is particularly concerned about the health and safety of young queers in the ward.
“I’m gay myself. I’m quite concerned with drug problems. A lot of young people move into the city, looking for acceptance and tolerance, and they get overwhelmed and fall in with a bad crowd.
“We’re seeing HIV and AIDS starting to rise again. Because of advances made in treating it, we’ve kind of waned in safer sex. We need to step up in education and not just treatment. We need to be working harder on giving our gay youth a positive view of the future.”
Reid says the current city council lacks in common sense in dealing with gridlock, homelessness, panhandling and managing our population growth.
“We have a lot of residents moving in downtown, but we don’t have the jobs or the small businesses that provide the services. We also don’t have enough green space.”