Toronto
3 min

Queering council

Will Phibbs split the left?

LESBIAN WARD 30. Chris Phibbs says that of the 60 households on her street, 14 are queer. Credit: Joshua Meles

The executive assistant to Toronto’s lone openly gay city councillor is moving out into the political spotlight herself.



Will Chris Phibbs become the city’s other openly queer councillor in November’s municipal elections?



With Jack Layton winning the New Democrat leadership race last month, his long-held Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth municipal ward will be up for grabs. (Layton’s going to vie for Liberal Dennis Mills’ federal Toronto-Danforth riding in the next general election, which is most likely more than a year away.)



“For the first time ever, the seat where I live may be coming available. I love doing the work and I’m excited for the chance to run,” says Phibbs, who hasn’t filed her papers yet. As a city employee she must give up her job when she registers.



For the past 12 years, Phibbs has worked at Toronto City Hall as openly gay councillor Kyle Rae’s executive assistant. The two began working together in 1988 when Rae was the executive director of the 519 Community Centre and Phibbs was the centre’s program coordinator.



“She’s second to none in terms of the executive assistants at city hall,” says Rae. “She knows the ropes, she knows the staff, she knows how to listen to constituents.I can’t imagine a better candidate for Ward 30.”



Calgary-born Phibbs, who as a child wanted to be a gymnast, got her political start when she was elected to the student senate at Western University. An active member of the queer community in Toronto since the early 1980s, Phibbs was involved in the creation of the AIDS memorial in Cawthra Square Park, served as co-chair for the Campaign for Equal Families, has been on the AIDS Committee Of Toronto’s board and is currently the chair of the Building Futures campaign, a group trying to raise a million dollars to fund and endow the queer community.



“She’s got a great style of listening, acting, talking and working on issues,” says Rae. “It’s proven to be magic working in the downtown. She’s someone I want to see working at city hall.”



Someone else quick to sing Phibbs’ praises is Tim Jones, who used to be the general manager of Buddies In Bad Times Theatre.



“She was very instrumental in the battles we had to get the theatre built on Alexander St,” says Jones. “Back then it was a different era at city hall. For a gay and lesbian theatre to be built in a city-owned building was a big thing. Chris took our sometimes hourly calls to help us cut through the red tape.”



It won’t be a cake walk for Phibbs. Another lefty, Paula Fletcher, is also interested in Ward 30. A school trustee for the area, Fletcher is seeking NDP backing for the election. Though there are no parties in Toronto city politics, councillors on the left often seek nominations from the party to raise their profiles.



Phibbs turned her back on the party after its provincial government failed to pass 1994 legislation that would have extended rights to gay and lesbian Ontarians. She’s received calls from party leaders to run as a nominated candidate. She’s said no, even though it will leave her running head to head with Fletcher or another NDP-supported candidate.



“I don’t think there will be a splitting of the vote because it’s an open seat and there will be lots of people running,” says Phibbs. “I also think Toronto will say that we should have another gay or lesbian elected official.”



It’s her working knowledge of city hall that Phibbs thinks gives her an edge.



“I’ve already done it,” says Phibbs, “I’ve been doing it for the past 12 years. Working in Kyle’s office has taught me how to use the city bureaucracy. I know how to get things done.”



Phibbs plans to campaign on her ability to improve city services.



“I’m hearing a need for basic city services, garbage and expanded recycling pick-up, organics and wet waste pick-up,” she says.



If elected, Phibbs would be the first out lesbian on council.



Phibbs is supported in her desire to run by her girlfriend of 14 years and her six-year-old son Zak. He looks forward to his mom fixing the streetlights in their neighbourhood.



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The other queer race to watch this election – at least for sheer entertainment value – is Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale incumbent Kyle Rae versus drag queen Enza “Supermodel” Anderson.



First elected in 1991, Rae last month filed his papers to run again. Anderson has taken runs at the mayor’s seat (and came in third in 2000’s race with 13,595 votes) and the federal leadership of the rightwing Canadian Alliance. A political dilettante, yes?



“Just because I’m a drag queen with a penchant for flamboyance certainly does not detract from the issues I am concerned about bringing attention to and fixing,” stated Anderson in a news release.



* Voting day is Mon, Nov 10.