Josh Matlow City Hall Diary
Nearly six months on the job and Toronto’s newly elected councillors don’t feel so new anymore.
Our schedules have been hectic, our learning curve’s been steep, and there have been repeated attempts to divide us into either right- or left-wing camps. But despite our differences, we’re all still determined to change the polarized culture at City Hall.
Like most people in our society, politicians are complex, interesting and multidimensional human beings.
Some have presumptively typecast Kristyn Wong-Tam as a radical lefty. She’s certainly progressive. But she’s also a thoughtful, savvy and successful businesswoman. An immigrant from Hong Kong, she taught herself to skate five years ago. “If I was going to be Canadian, I needed to know how to skate,” she explained, quipping: “Next is to make love in a canoe.”
Gary Crawford doesn‘t speak much at council meetings. But when he does, people listen. And while he consistently supports the mayor’s agenda, the life-long artist and drummer for the classic rock band Gently Bent has been a strong advocate for Toronto’s arts and culture scene. When I told him Wong-Tam’s story he replied, “I grew up Canadian and never learned to skate. While all the boys were playing hockey, I wanted to draw.”
Michelle Berardinetti is on the mayor’s executive team — she‘s also a vegetarian and animal rights activist. James Pasternak, who often votes with the mayor, loves canoeing, regularly bikes around his ward and is the proud owner of a vinyl record collection that includes Phil Ochs, Neil Young, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan albums. He explained, “Despite my politics leaning to the right, most of my music leans to the left.” When I asked him about council‘s political dividing lines, he astutely noted, “We walked into a family fight.”
After last year’s municipal election, some people assumed Mary-Margaret McMahon was conservative and nothing but. After all, she defeated a high-profile NDP councillor and had the support of John Tory. However, she’s proven her detractors wrong by advocating for farmers’ markets, community gardens and having a voting record as diverse as the politics in her ward.
At the age of 15, Ana Bailao arrived in Toronto from Portugal with little knowledge of the English language. Her first job was cleaning offices — now she runs one. And like every newbie I spoke with, including Jaye Robinson, Mary Fragedakis, Vincent Crisanti, Mike Layton and Josh Colle, Bailao rejects being forced in to an ideological category.
Now here’s a whopper — after working at a meatpacking plant as a teenager, Doug Ford became an ethical vegetarian. His wife and four daughters are herbivores, too.
And towards the end of our chat, he smiled and told me: “Here’s something that’ll really surprise you … I’m a big supporter of gay pride.” He says he donated $5,000 worth of printing to Pride Toronto last year.
He then added, “I’m a big time social liberal … so is Rob.”
If I hadn’t asked, I would have never known.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s, and no longer a newbie.
To read this column at thestar.ca, please click here.