Are you ready to fight for Toronto?
When you are singled out, it is difficult not to respond.
On Dec. 27, Christopher Hume’s column outlined 10 problems facing Toronto and concluded with the simple surprising sentence, “John Sewell, are you ready?”
Here’s my response.
It’s crazy to think one person can change a city, or the world, for the better — it rarely ever happens. No single person has the good ideas that are needed, the energy that’s required, or the administrative ability to make those kinds of changes. One person can provide leadership, but that requires people who agree to join in with their energy and creativity.
That’s certainly been my experience working for good change in Toronto for the last 50 years. Individuals don’t become leaders because they want to: they must work with a large group of people, who they often don’t know very well, to develop an organization, create strategies, and then put the pressure on so elected leaders make the changes needed. None of this is easy, and most groups that come together with the hope they can make change dissolve in a few months without having achieved very much.
I am part of a new group Defend Toronto (defendtoronto.org), which is trying to bring pressure on Premier Doug Ford to stop using the provincial government to attack Toronto.
This includes his legislation to cut the size of city council in half, his plan to “upload” ownership of Toronto’s subway system (stealing the subway is a more accurate description since he does not want to pay the city what it is worth), putting inappropriate development in Ontario Place, or allowing Toronto and other municipalities to pass bylaws that are contrary to the Official Plan and provincial planning policy, contravene environmental legislation, can be passed without notice or hearings, and cannot be appealed.
Ford is a very dangerous man with a bunch of bad ideas and our group has brought people together to fight back. Of course we need more people to be part of Defend Toronto to make us more successful and we are actively looking for groups and individuals who want to join with us.
But here’s the thing: Chris Hume listed 10 issues that need to be addressed at city council. Doug Ford has created a diversion from those issues. Defend Toronto might try to do its work, but we need a number of other groups that will take on the challenge of looking at these other issues and sorting out good strategies.
Take affordable housing, for instance. City council has failed over the last decade to do anything serious to create more affordable housing in Toronto. We have an ambitious federal housing strategy, which the city should tap into. The city owns more than 100 public housing projects, which the last Conservative government downloaded 20 years ago, and these projects need to be redeveloped quickly to provide more affordable units and a mix of incomes. We need one or more groups to start pressuring city council to get serious about building affordable housing. That will only happen if a new group forms committed to this purpose.