Candidate wants to make it fun

[attach]1781[/attach]When you talk to residents about car idling, dress like a tree.

That is Mary-Margaret McMahon’s idea for how to get residents involved in their community and in the civic process.

“You engage more people when you make it fun,” said McMahon, who is running for a seat in Ward 32.

“People are really disgruntled with city hall. People don’t believe their vote matters anymore. I want people to have faith in their councillors again.”

McMahon is a community activist in the Woodbine and Danforth neighbourhood, where she has lived for 19 years. She was also working with Live Green Toronto, but took a leave of absence to run in the election.

Many of her projects focus on the environment, like getting the TTC to plant five trees near Woodbine subway station. Other projects have included starting a farmers’ market with three other women, organizing volunteers to cook meals for farmers who sell produce at
the park, and of course, stopping people from idling their cars.

But one of the things she does best, she says, is connecting people.

A pharmacist in her neighbourhood was spending a lot of money getting graffiti removed every time his store was tagged. So McMahon introduced him to a resident who was a mural artist.

“(I) just connected them and for a minimal cost he paid for her paint and for her time. She slapped up a beautiful mural and it hasn’t been tagged in three years.”

This is the kind of work she wants to continue doing as a councillor, she said.

McMahon’s main goal is to empower residents to take ownership of their neighbourhood and become involved in solving community issues. One way to do this, she says, is to get residents talking to each other.

“I want to have the residents’ associations all connect with each other, and have all the BIAs connect with each other, and share the
great work they’re already doing.”

Her other priority areas include sustainability and development projects.

McMahon wants to create a tree stewardship plan to preserve the Beach’s tree canopy, set up community gardens for residents to grow their own food and encourage them to shop locally.

To address development issues, McMahon said she’d set up a preservation panel consisting of residents, urban planners and architects. If developers want to build something in the ward, they would have to discuss their plans with the panel first, instead of going to city council. This would bring all stakeholders together at the beginning of the project, she said.

“What happens is, by the time the committee is involved, it’s almost too late and it goes to the (Ontario Municipal Board) and nine times out of 10, you lose at the OMB,” she said.

Another issue residents have raised is irresponsible spending at city hall, she said. McMahon pointed to a building in her ward that has been empty for two years. The lights were on 24/7 until the bulbs burnt out.

“Apparently the city is paying $5,000 per month to lease that building,” she said. “No one’s there. And they signed a 20-year
lease…That’s $60,000 a year — someone’s salary, or two peoples’ salary.”

One way to reign in spending, she said, is to have each department review their budget to look for areas where they can save money.

As of press time, McMahon faces incumbent councillor Sandra Bussin, Bruce Baker, Albert Castells, Sandra Iseman and Kieron Pope.

“I’d like to be more approachable and accessible,” McMahon said, adding she’d return emails and phone calls promptly, and hold monthly town hall meetings.

“It’s time for a change. I’m a great leader. I can really empower people to do better for their communities and work together.”

Those leadership qualities may be genetic.

McMahon’s father was mayor of Collingwood for eight years. She said her family always thought her younger brother would be the one to continue their father’s political legacy.

“But all my brothers are helping out on the campaign. They’re thrilled and my parents are helping as well,” she said.

She’s also roping in her two children — Liam, 12, and Becca, 10 — who are around the same age she was when her father was running for mayor.

“They’re going to experience what I experienced being dragged around, door knocking,” she said. “That’s actually a good strategy — just going out and meeting the people.”

And she says this is what she’s been doing since she announced her candidacy on May 13.

“I’m just getting out there, anywhere and everywhere, and being my usual friendly self and just speaking to the residents of the area.”