There is a consensus among central west-area councillors – both veteran and rookie: the first two years of council since Mayor Rob Ford’s election have flown by.
Dec. 7 would have marked the second anniversary of Ford’s inauguration. Since then, Parkdale-High Park and Davenport councillors’ schedules have remained jam-packed. Each say they are pleased and proud of all they have accomplished – and learned, but remain focused on continuing the work they’ve started.
For Parkdale-High Park Councillor Sarah Doucette and Davenport Councillor Ana Bailao, both first-time councillors, there’s been a learning curve of sorts.
“It’s been interesting, fascinating – an amazing learning experience and 99.9 per cent positive,” Doucette said.
The Ward 13 councillor said she has been able to carry on the work she began as a parent and community activist, but in her new role has had the backing of municipal government.
“We’ve kept pools and libraries open and built playgrounds – it’s what I always did, but now I’ve got city hall behind me.”
From the onset of her election, Doucette wanted to host a ward council, which she achieved in doing by bringing together Business Improvement Areas (BIA), ratepayers, resident and tenant associations.
Doucette has found it “really successful” to have a “roaming” constituency office. She meets with residents at various locations like Runnymede and Annette Street libraries, the Swansea Town Hall and Lambton House.
“It tells people these places exist, it’s helping these places become known,” she said.
Doucette can take credit for leading the charge in keeping the beloved High Park Zoo open and rebuilding the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground, whose castle turret was ravaged by fire.
“More than 800 people came out on the day of the (community) rebuild. It was great fun,” she said.
Doucette is eagerly anticipating the opening of the BMX skills park slated for the corner of The Queensway and Ellis Avenue – “it’ll get kids off the couch and outside. All you need is a bike and a helmet,” she said.
Issues she has championed include reducing vibrations and noise caused by the Bloor subway line, which the TTC is committed to rectifying, and setting up working groups to discuss various condo developments.
From planning public parks and streetscapes, to community leaders who work with the city and developers, Parkdale-High Park Councillor Gord Perks counts the work he has done to empower and engage residents among his greatest accomplishments.
“I am also really proud of my role in rescuing the city’s budget process and transit planning from a mayor bent on derailing the things that make Toronto a great city,” he said.
Perks said he will take up the challenge of ensuring free universally accessible recreation across the city and ensuring a casino isn’t built in Toronto. But further to that Perks said he wants to be part of a group of Torontonians who work to elect a council in 2014 that will change the conversation in the city.
“One that is imagining Toronto getting better again, instead of undermining the things that make this a great city to live in,” he said.
When Perks took office in 2006 he said community leaders in Ward 14 had an active suspicion and hostility towards the city. Now, half-way through his second term, Perks said people are engaged and working with the city to make Parkdale-High Park a better place to live.
“If I don’t ever win elected office again, I will be very proud of how much work I have done to have people in Ward 14 take a leadership role in designing their own neighbourhood,” he said.
Rookie councillor Bailao called her first term so far in office “exciting,” but admitted surprise by the polarization of council.
“I love what I do. I feel really privileged to do what I do, but, I believe a lot of issues are not left or right they’re all about a consensus.”
Bailao cited restoring Dundas West BIA’s retail parking spots and ensuring an efficient end to the Dundas Street West road re-construction as two early accomplishments. The fact that the BIA was just awarded ‘best streetscape’ by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas last month was simply icing on the cake, she said.
“It’s now looking really good,” she said of the retail strip. “New shops are opening up every month.”
Bailao said she takes pride in her role in expanding the West Toronto Railpath and in the creation of the planned Toronto Media Arts Cluster, 38,000 square feet of space dedicated to media arts, including photography and film. Bailao was instrumental in securing development funds to create the cluster.
Bailao is working along with the Bloordale and Bloorcourt BIAs in the reconstruction of Dufferin Street, a major project that includes watermain and sewer updates and road resurfacing.
Bailao has worked hard to improve several parks in Ward 18: Campbell Park’s wading pool underwent reconstruction as well as its kitchen.
“Now, we’re working on a visioning study for Wallace-Emerson Park,” she said.
Ward 18 is facing increased new development for which Bailao says she has always strived to include local residents.
“Change is coming and we have to manage it. We need to get the community at the table. We are much stronger as a community,” sadi the councillor, who helped secure development funds for the expansion of Perth/Dupont Library.
Like her fellow Davenport colleague, Ward 17 Councillor Cesar Palacio has secured funding to improve both the Dufferin/St. Clair and Silverthorn libraries. He has launched an environmental initiative to increase green space and the tree canopy across his ward.
“We created three new parks – Percy Cummins next to 11 Division, Northcliffe Parkette and Davenport Village, which will open next year,” he said, adding improvements have been made to several other parks.
Palacio is proud to support social events including the ever popular street parties put on by local residents.
On the subject of transportation, Palacio said he is proud of his role in leading the initiative to make the TTC an essential service. He has played a key role in ensuring an environmental assessment is conducted for St. Clair West between Old Weston Road and Keele Street.
“That area is a nightmare. There’s so much traffic congestion,” said Palacio, adding that public consultation meetings for the assessment will begin early next year.
Palacio was the architect of the Davenport Road and Rogers Road bike lanes in his ward and worked alongside Bailao to expand the West Toronto Railpath. He has done everything in his power to ensure a healthy social infrastructure, ensuring that school nutrition programs were available in schools throughout Ward 17, Palacio said.
“I’m passionate about what I do. I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I’ll find a way to get things done,” he said.
~ with files from Erin Hatfield