How can we make Toronto sexier? This was the thrust of recent conversations between Xtra and the leading mayoral candidates.
Now touted as the world’s most multicultural city, Toronto remains haunted by the ghost of its WASPy, puritan past.
While Montreal promotes its Pride celebrations and its gay village far and wide, Toronto seems too embarrassed to really tout our own homos. We arrest nudists at Pride instead. Even Vancouver Vancouver! is extending bar hours to 4am.
The candidates were generally receptive to our ideas for a sexy city. But we wanted more. The queer community has been burned before by well-meaning, incompetent boobs. And so we tested our candidates for sound approaches for delivering on promises.
We began our interviews with the problem of the police service, perhaps the city institution most notoriously resistant to governance.
We cited numerous police charges, all of them unsuccessful in court, against sexual homos in recent years: raids on the Bijou cinema; charges against nudist gatherings at the Barn; the raid on the Pussy Palace.
We asked: Should we stop using police resources to criminalize consensual sex?
Barbara Hall, who seemed tired and unfocussed at our interview, paused for an uncomfortably long time. But she was thinking, and her answer was clear: “Yes.” Despite coming across as the candidate who weighs her answers most carefully, she was the sole interviewee to give us such an unequivocal response.
All of her responses resonated a deep practicality, borne of experience. Promising to sit on the Police Services Board herself, she spoke with the auth-ority of one used to working with police.
Hall’s answer on prostitution was also the most sophisticated, acknowledging sex workers as constituents and human beings. She supports decriminalization, but not a red light district. Again, she is practical: She can’t imagine a neighbourhood agreeing to house it.
David Miller, who supported the Pussy Palace gals, agreed that “behind closed doors, [sex] shouldn’t be an issue.” But he was stymied when we asked how he’d effectively set police priorities, when police say any such interference from politicians flouts the law.
We also asked our candidates about easing regulations to make Toronto more fun and a bigger draw for tourists. We’d like to see later bar hours, licensed sex establishments and a decided policy against policing pot possession.
The much ballyhooed “new deal” for cities should ultimately include not just cash, but city-state powers which allow Toronto to make its own decisions about condoning prohibited activities.
Miller seemed genuinely excited by the idea, but again unsure of implementation.
Hall may be best positioned to deliver a new deal, given endorsements from provincial Liberals. Her financial plan appears realistic, while Miller’s depends on wads of cash from the province that are unlikely to be delivered.
Hall has the strongest track record with the queer community, going all the way back to her work as a defence lawyer for gay men charged during the 1981 bathhouse raids. In conversation, she is most at home with our issues.
Miller seems passionate and genuine in his support of queer Toronto, and insiders at City Hall confirm that he is a solid friend and ally.
Miller represents a fresh approach, brimming with optimism that Hall lacks. His track record is less substantial, and he can’t always tell you how he’d make things happen. Chatting with him, though, you believe that in place of experience, he might just get the job done riding on his do-gooder enthusiasm.
David Miller might make a good mayor. He represents the city’s aspirations for the best kind of change. And he may be the only candidate who can grow to personify a new spirit of excitement and confidence in Toronto.
But Barbara Hall appears more likely to deliver change. She is clearly an effective politician who can get things done, and her ideas are in synch with those of forward-thinking urban queers. She is not so effective, however, in translating her strengths into the slick images and sound bites that we use, however superficially, to evaluate politicians.
It’s too early to tell whether the race will require a strategic vote for Hall or Miller to ensure one of them becomes mayor. Until then, I’m bucking the trend of recent polls, and I’m backing Babs.
David Walberg is Publisher for Xtra.