Leasiders appear split on how the recent municipal election — with North Toronto incumbent Jaye Robinson ousting local favourite Jon Burnside — affects the community which has been subsumed by the expanded Don Valley West ward.
Some fear that portions of Burnside’s former Ward 26, will be lost in Premier Doug Ford’s decision to cut council seats down to 25, making Leaside part of the new Ward 15.
Serrano Imports co-owner, Gieselle Baerveldt, for one, said she was saddened by the loss of Burnside at City Hall.
“He’s very involved in the area schools,” said the small business owner who calls Leaside home with husband Michael Tkaczuk. “He came on a number of occasions when Bessborough School has asked for his help, or came to a meeting on traffic safety.”
Baerveldt is a member of Bessborough’s Home and School Parent Council.
“I fear with Jaye [Robinson] we’re going to be losing the headway that we’ve made here in Leaside. I don’t believe she operates the same way,” she said. “Jon did a lot of work, in my opinion — he was far more visible than John Parker, the former councillor.”
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, under former Toronto councillor Doug Ford, passed Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act on Aug. 14, thus interfering with an election already underway in Ontario’s largest city.
“I personally was one of the five intervenors in Bill 5 against the reduction of councillors. I was very much annoyed about that,” said Geoff Kettel, co-president of the Leaside Property Owners Association. “Our organization was involved in the city’s engagement exercise. It was a two-year process. They had studies and so on, and all to be washed up overnight.”
This led to two very strong incumbents, Robinson (formerly representing Ward 25) and Burnside, being pitted against one another. Across Toronto a total of 13 incumbents ended up being ousted due to similar conflicts, including Joe Mihevc and Christin Carmichael Greb in neighbouring wards.
However, Kettel said he was neutral regarding both Don Valley West candidates as he was also a co-chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Association.
“I’m not a typical citizen, in the sense that I do know the politicians in the formerly adjoining wards — I do know Jaye very well,” he said. He realized this is not common among others in his community. “I think there’s a sense of living in Leaside, you want to support the local boy, kind of idea. They weren’t aware of Jaye and her work in her own ward.”
Former East York mayor Alan Redway also expressed his support of Robinson.
“My friends who live in what used to be her ward all sang her praises,” Redway said.
“She’s a fighter against developers who are trying to overwhelm neighbourhoods,” he added. “That’s quite positive as far as I’m concerned.”
Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat, the former chief city planner was in support of a massive redevelopment along Eglinton Avenue East from Laird Drive to Brentcliffe Road. That may have hurt her as many in the area are overwhelmed by the construction and redevelopment.
“We’re going to have a wall of apartments along there, and who knows how high,” Redway said.
As for Burnside, he is still determining what his next steps are post-election loss, he said on the phone in November.
“I was saddened by the outcome, but I wasn’t surprised, given my ward was split into two wards,” he said. “I was doing a job that I loved, so I had that disappointment.”
The midtown wards tend to be busy, he added, giving examples of issues that stretched from Thorncliffe Park, now in Don Valley East, to Leaside and north of Eglinton.
“It’s up to any councillor, not just in Don Valley West, to give that level of service that’s expected and I hope that will continue,” he said. “With the larger wards, you increase the diversity, and it might be a challenge across the city to meet their needs.”
On election night, Robinson especially thanked the Thorncliffe Park community, which was previously in Burnsides’ former ward along with Leaside and several smaller neighbourhoods but this time around seemed to support Robinson.
“That’s why I am standing here,” she said at her victory party. “Thorncliffe Park, I will never forget you.”
The passing of Bill 5, which Burnside was against and he said Robinson was in favour of, was an “unfortunate situation,” Burnside said.
Redway agreed with Burnside on this point.
“That, in my view, is a crime,” he said, adding it can be corrected. Montreal has an unincorporated borough system with 13 separate micro-councils. The mayor of those subsections sits on the Montreal council. “It’s not impossible to go back to a system that works.”
The risk now for Toronto is the loss of local government and an invitation to more partisan party politics.
“It’s going to encourage party politics municipally, which I decry,” Redway said. “You’ll turn it into a circus of what we have in Ottawa and at Queens Park with the opposition opposing everything, screaming and shouting.”