Yonge-Dundas Square
7 min

Toronto city councillor Kyle Rae calls it quits

In a letter to supporters earlier today, longtime Toronto city councillor Kyle Rae announced that he will not run for reelection in next November's civic election.

Read Rae's swan song below….

Dear Friends,

Last week, I began my 19th year as City Councillor for Ward 27. After lengthy and thoughtful consideration over the last year, I have decided that I will not run in the 2010 municipal election.

My time on Council has been a remarkable partnership with the residents and businesses of Ward 27. We have transformed the central core into a place where families and entrepreneurs can thrive. That was not so 20 years ago. Families, couples and singles, many of whom are new immigrants, have decided to call the downtown their home. The central core's population, which shrank from the 1950's through to the 1970's, has increased very recently to pre-World War II levels.

I spent the first two terms on council being described as "the first openly gay City Councillor of Toronto," in just about every press story. From this vantage point, I was able to calm the fears of many a councillor, who had never knowingly known, or worked with a queer person. Being at the decision making table has allowed me to change people's attitudes, and I am grateful for the opportunity to transform homophobia into acceptance. Leadership on equality issues for queers, using Toronto City Council as an ally, has repeatedly advanced the queer community's agenda for equality. I am proud of the work we achieved on a local level which has influenced provincial and federal governments. We have become THE city in the world with the least restrictions on same sex marriage, so that now, the world's gays and lesbians come here to wed; then take their marriage certificate to their homeland to demand equality there. Toronto has a proud place in queer history.

I believe we are still the only city in the world that commits property tax dollars each year ($1.5 million) for AIDS prevention and education. We have forestalled an epidemic of HIV and Hep C by our continued support of needle exchanges and partnering with AIDS community activists. More recently the City's relationship with the South East District Council in Botswana has transformed the lives of young people in a nation where HIV is amongst the highest prevalence rates.

For too long, the place of Culture in the City Agenda, and more tragically the City Budget, meant that in per capita spending, Toronto was an unashamed laggard. We continue to play catch up, but with the tools now in place, the Culture Plan in particular, we have a road map going forward. I am most proud of the advances over the last seven years when, as unofficial champion, and then officially, as Chair of Economic Development and Culture, we grew the budget and the centrality of culture as a pillar of the City's Prosperity Agenda.

Over my many years on Council, I would say without any qualification, that Economic Development has been the under funded, undervalued and maligned department at the city. With city councillors far more interested in their residents, by-laws and by-law enforcement, it has meant that they have given little time to foreign investment, economic sector identification and support, as well as employment strategies. I believe that I have started to transform the narrow conventional notion of economic development. The re-organization of the department, the creation of Invest Toronto, as well as turning the Economic Development and Culture Committee into a place to educate councillors and staff is a good start in moving the city forward.

In the wildly expensive lands of Ward 27, the creation of new parkland is prohibitive. Over my 18 years on Council, I have worked with landowners, developers and local residents to secure more than 10 acres of open space. From Parliament Square to Yorkville's Town Hall Park, together we have enhanced our public realm. I am most proud of the linear parks that parallel Yonge Street to the east: George Hislop Park, Norman Jewison Park and James Canning Gardens. In terms of open space, the extraordinary intervention by the City at the intersection of Dundas and Yonge transformed the city centre. The Square, now surrounded by the new City-TV headquarters and the Metropolis complex that accommodates Ryerson University with lecture halls during the day and AMC Theatres in the afternoon and evening, is unique and thriving. The Square itself has become an unparalleled host to Toronto's communities seeking a place to celebrate. The City's bravery in assembling the lands for the project proved to me, that, at a time in the not too distant past, the City was once able to be creative, take risks, and realise dreams. I miss those times.

I am very proud of the accomplishments in cycling infrastructure in the City, and in Ward 27 in particular, during my time as City Councillor. The City of Toronto has recognized that it must move people, not cars, and people are moved in a variety of different ways. Today there are bike lanes on Davenport, Sherbourne, Wellesley, Gerrard, College and Shuter, with more to come, including bike lanes on Jarvis. I am proud to have seen streets that served the motor vehicle alone evolve into more "complete streets."

Housing has been a fascinating experience over the last 18 years. When first elected in 1991, I inherited a development economy broken by the recession of that time. Condo developers were busy converting their projects into non-profits or co-ops because provincial and federal allocations were available while the banks were not prepared to lend for condos. By 1995 both senior levels of government had abandoned non-profit and co-op housing….and disgracefully they are yet to return. Despite the lack of commitment of senior levels of government, we have been able to create thousands of units of affordable housing and several hundred units to address the ongoing, unmet needs in HIV/AIDS housing.

Transforming the landscape downtown since the year 2000 with point towers for residential intensification has been controversial, but tremendously successful. In my opinion the Radio CityNational Ballet School development spearheaded by Context and executed with incredible sensitivity by KPMB and Architects Alliance, is the best institutional, residential and heritage development in the city's history.

On heritage, I have been a member of the Heritage Preservation Board since its creation by City Council. I have worked hard to ensure that stable neighbourhoods, with heritage characteristics, have optimal protection by the City. Working with ratepayer groups in Rosedale, the City successfully created two heritage districts that have captured over 2,000 homes within heritage preservation standards. However, heritage protection extends beyond our residential neighbourhoods. One of the finest examples of the work of Mies van der Rohe is the TD Bank Centre, and I am proud to have led the designation of this site as a city heritage landmark. In addition, following the terrible neglect by the owners of 102 Shuter Street (Walnut Hall), I was able to convince Council to enact a by-law that prohibits heritage buildings being demolished due to the neglect of property owners.

Urban design has been the single most transformative sector in the planning process. The public's craving for the improvement of our built form and our public realm, has reached a fever pitch…as it should. My controversial and successful intervention to refuse the Planning Department's preferred design for 18 Yorkville and my promotion of the point tower advocated by the applicant and his architect triggered a rethink that has transformed the city centre. We deserve better built form in Toronto and our higher expectations are driving new younger architects to the fore. I have had the honour of working with the best: Peter Clewes, David Pontarini, Bruce Kuwabara, Shirley Blumberg, Jack Diamond, Don Schmitt and Brian Curtner. I hope the next wave is as innovative as the last.

Over the years, I have been graced with a team of staff in my office that have served me and you with professionalism, and dedication: Chris Phibbs, Sandy Bobyk, Joyce Scheurwater, Michael Robertson, Ryan Lahr, Mark Wilson and Elliot Shapiro. I am sure that you will join with me in thanking them for years of commitment to Ward 27.

I have not decided how the next phase of my work life will look. I know that local public service, though rewarding, is particularly relentless in a constituency that is so vibrant, diverse, and has a healthy mix of commercial, residential, and institutional interests. I look forward to new challenges and new opportunities, but will certainly not miss parking complaints, oversized fences, noisy neighbour issues, garbage questions and dogs in parks.

I wish I could say that I have left the City in a better state than I found it. I arrived before the Harrisite amalgamation and download. Queen's Park has hobbled the City's ability to deliver municipal services. Downloading provincial programs and services onto the municipal taxpayer has wrecked havoc on our parks, recreation centres, libraries, community services and culture. 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.

In many ways, Ward 27 has been able to weather the provincial storm. Each of us will have our own accomplishments that we realized together, such as: a new home for the Lesbian & Gay Archives; remaking of Seaton House; transformation of Bloor Street; a space for Buddies in Bad Times to call its own; defending the Pussy Palace; legally skinny dipping at Hanlan's Point; restoration of the St. Charles Tavern Tower; creation of Build Toronto; development of the MaRS Centre; redesign of the Cumberland subway entrance; new research facilities at St. Michael's and SickKids hospitals; the new Women's College Hospital; redevelopment of Maple Leaf Gardens; expansion of the 519 Church Street Community Centre; redevelopment of the Wellesley Hospital site for housing; formation of the St. Lawrence, Downtown Yonge, Church-Wellesley Village and Rosedale Main Street BIAs; the phenomenal growth and embrace of Pride festivities; and most importantly – the continued evolution of the downtown into a place where people choose to live, invest and play.

These are important acts in the life of a city. I sincerely hope that I, and my office, have made a difference in your life and the quality of our neighbourhoods.

Thank you for your support, friendship and confidence.

I remain,

Kyle Rae

 


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