After more than 18 years, Toronto city councillor Kyle Rae announced on Dec 11 that he will not run in next November’s civic elections.
Rae announced the move in an email to supporters that enumerated his achievements as he sees them and criticized some of the aberrations of Canadian politics that leave so many of us rolling our eyes in frustration.
“Downloading provincial programs and services onto the municipal taxpayer has wreaked havoc on our parks, recreation centres, libraries, community services and culture,” wrote Rae. “The federal and provincial aversion for responsible tax policy and appropriate tax increases has resulted in more than 15 years of cowardly downloading onto the City.”
Rae is right. It’s been a tough and unfair time for Toronto’s civic politicians.
But Rae nevertheless did some great things during his tenure, many more than I have space to enumerate here, and for them gay and lesbian people should be grateful.
He focused on private economic development. It may have been a necessary approach for him, considering the cards he was dealt. The strategy increased the tax base, contributed to an improvement in the city’s architecture and finagled contributions from builders for heritage preservation and welcome public assets.
As an openly gay man who got his start in politics at the 519 Church St Community Centre, Rae understands some of the unique and unjust challenges faced by gay and lesbian people. Ultimately, that understanding influenced many of his decisions and, as Toronto’s first openly gay city councillor, it may be his greatest legacy.
He put his career on the line to publicly chastise Toronto police after the 2000 Pussy Palace raid. He played a role in securing a permanent home for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, and, earlier this year, he quietly helped to put the kibosh on the persecution of sex workers on the Homewood-Maitland stroll.
But he sometimes failed to use his bully pulpit when it was needed. He stood silently, as a mere concerned citizen, after gay man Chris Skinner was murdered in October. The day after Skinner’s funeral, Rae was in the news – not with a declaration that homophobic violence would not be tolerated on his patch, or to counter the bizarre speculation that Skinner was somehow architect of his own demise – but as a participant in the public wedding of two women from Russia.
When gay man James Hearst, another of Rae’s constituents, died after a lengthy wait for emergency medical treatment earlier this year, Rae was similarly silent.
Political manoeuvrings between the city and its workers union were obviously a factor in the delay in assisting Hearst, but Rae’s only statement in the aftermath was that it would likely be too expensive for the city to demand that the full capacities of Toronto Emergency Medical Services are available all the time.
He could have discharged his political capital by screaming his lungs out in each of these cases.
But Rae still has almost a year before he leaves his council seat for good. With no election to lose, with fewer consequences to consider, it’s my hope he will be more frank and more accessible, that he will use this chance to say the things he always wanted to.
As we move forward, gay and lesbian people must turn their attentions to finding a new city councillor for Ward 27.
That candidate should be a gay or lesbian person, one who is smart and accomplished. We need someone who is responsive and accessible, and we need someone who responds to dissent by addressing it head-on. We need someone who is fresh, who will take political risks when they most need to be taken, but who is skilled enough to juggle the disparate interests of Rosedale, Church-Wellesley and St James Town.
The search is on.
Matt Mills is editorial director of Pink Triangle Press.