Raymond Cho, a self-described “left-of-centre” Scarborough councillor since 1991, became a Progressive Conservative candidate this week, instantly becoming a champion against the provincial government’s “reckless overspending.”
He said will keep his council job, but will not draw a salary during a provincial election campaign many expect next year.
“The current government, they’ve been so wasteful,” Cho said Tuesday, Dec. 18, the day after he was acclaimed the PC choice for Scarborough-Rouge River at a local community centre.
“The last straw that broke the camel’s back” was Premier Dalton McGuinty’s prorogation of the legislature, he added. Before the meeting, Cho acknowledged his Tory conversion would be “kind of a surprise to a lot of people,” considering he made his political debut in 1988 as a federal New Democratic Party candidate, then joined the Liberals after becoming a councillor in the former Metropolitan Toronto government in 1991.
He has kept a council seat in what is now the eastern half of Scarborough-Rouge River ever since. In 2004, he ran federally in the riding as an “independent Liberal,” but lost.
A PC party press release Monday, Dec. 17, had Tory Leader Tim Hudak praising Cho “for his unwavering focus on reducing the size and cost of government and kick-starting the economy to create private-sector jobs.”
That may surprise certain critics of Cho, a trained social worker who often rises to speak on behalf of city’s affordable housing stock or on the importance of combating climate change. The right-wing Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave Cho a grade of F on its most recent Toronto Council report card, saying he voted against an “assortment of cost-cutting measures.”
Alan Sakach, a PC spokesperson, said Hudak’s “unwavering focus” comment reflected the committment Cho made when he approached the party.
“He went through a very intensive process when he applied to be a candidate,” Sakach said.
Cho said he is encouraged by Hudak’s public stand in favour of subways, rather than the light-rail line now planned on Sheppard Avenue from Don Mills Station to Meadowvale Road, though the PC leader has not offered additional provincial funds to Toronto for subways.
If elected and part of the PC caucus, Cho said, “I will insist that the subway should come all the way to Meadowvale,” but added, “I have to listen to the party leader.”
The councillor’s nomination opens the way to a three-way race in the riding between Liberal MPP Bas Balkissoon, Cho and New Democrat Neethan Shan, who ran second against Cho in the 2010 municipal election and against Balkissoon in 2011 provincial election. Though not nominated yet, Shan, president of the Ontario NDP, said he plans to wage a provincial campaign should the opposition bring the minority Liberal government down.
PC membership is “not reflective of what people thought Raymond is,” said Shan, but added he wasn’t surprised by the news.
“The one consistent thing about Raymond is the inconsistency he’s had on the issues.”
Balkissoon said he wouldn’t speculate on why Cho wants to run as a PC against him. “He’s entitled to run and that’s his choice,” he said. “We have different styles, all three of us.” Cho said he would attend important meetings as a councillor once an election is called, but maintained his status as a PC candidate will not change his behaviour at Toronto Council.
“When I vote for important issues, I don’t vote according to ideology,” he said.
Though he supports fiscal austerity, he said, he will not support a budget cut reducing the number of trucks at the Lapsley Road fire station in his ward from two to one. “Saving life is way more important.” Sakach said also Liang Chen, an associate dean at University of Toronto Scarborough who ran against MPP Soo Wong in 2011, was ready to return as the PC candidate in Scarborough-Agincourt.
Her nomination meeting was set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19, night at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 614.