Posts Tagged ‘Toronto

The Leafs — 15 Years Ago

- March 8th, 2015

Don’t ask me why I have a Toronto Maple Leafs 2001 dayplanner. I really don’t know.

Well, I know the dayplanner was a fundraising thing for the Hospital for Sick Children, and the Toronto Sun (of which I was a senior editor at the time) was somehow involved in promoting it.

Dayplanner-cover

And I remember getting autographs from Darcy Tucker and Tomas Kaberle — remember them? — on their particular photo pages when they were in the Sun building one day in late 2000.

But I can’t remember whether I bought the day planner or whether it was given to me by the nice people in the Sun promotions department. I was a pretty big Leafs fan then — everybody in Toronto was — but I never really went in for buying gotta-support-the-team stuff.

The Leafs in that turn-of-the-century period were a special bunch, even if we did sort of take their success for granted in the pre-salary-cap/post-Harold-Ballard era. It really surprised the heck out of us that they never made it to a Cup final.

Pat Quinn was GM and coach, of course, and perennial captain Mats Sundin, that ageless Viking, was the team’s points leader with 74 (although Gary Roberts was top scorer that year with 29 goals). Tie Domi led the team in penalty minutes with 214 for the season. And goalie Curtis Joseph had 33 wins with a 2.39 goals-against average.

The Leafs finished the season in third place in the Northeast Division (seventh overall in the East) with 90 points — a 10-point dip from the previous season and the following season. (Boston, Montreal and both New York teams missed the playoffs that year, I might add.) Leafs swept the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs (as usual) and were in turn knocked out in the next round by the New Jersey Devils in seven games (as usual).

All that seems so long ago and so much has changed since then. Playoffs? Ninety-point seasons (not to mention 100-point seasons)? Hometown hockey heroes?

The reason I’ve still got that dayplanner has nothing to do with the Leafs, however. That was a particularly eventful year in my life. My father died in December 2000, I turned 50 in January 2001, we bought a new house that summer and the world changed forever when the Twin Towers came crashing down on Sept. 11, 2001. Plus a lot of other stuff was going on in my life at the time. It’s all recorded in that 2001 dayplanner.

Which is why I still have it. And why I dug it out a couple of days ago to check a date.

But then I started leafing through it. There were photos in there of players I had forgotten — but it all came back in a rush.

The thing I found most startling about the photos was that players’ wives, girlfriends and children were included. This folksy touch was supposed to make us feel closer to the players and think of them on a more human level, I guess. Or maybe the kids were there as a tie-in to the Hospital for Sick Children.

I’m sure many of today’s Leafs would like to be thought of as human beings and not commodities too. But putting family and lovers on display is simply not done any more. At least officially. There are just too many privacy and security concerns these days.

But the photos provide an interesting trip down memory lane, so I’m going to share some of them from the 2001 Leafs day planner with you here.

Darcy-Tucker

We’ll start with Darcy Tucker, wife Shannon and kids Owynn and Cole since I have Darcy’s autograph on the photo. It was Darcy’s first full season with the Leafs. Sideshow Bob was always one of my favourite Leaf players. The Tuckers still live in the GTA and added another kid, Cain, to the clan after this photo.

Tomas-Kaberle

For the same reason, Tomas Kaberle is next with then-girlfriend Ilona Kvapilova (who became his wife from 2002 to 2010). Doesn’t Kaberle look young here? Now 37, he tried out with the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers at the beginning of the 2014-15 NHL season but didn’t stick with either team. (He’s not officially retired, however.) He still has a home in Toronto, I believe, as well as in his native Czech Republic.

Nik-Antropov

Nik Antropov and wife Lena. In this photo, she’s pregnant with the first of their two children. Today Nik is still playing hockey in the KHL where he is captain of Barys Astana in his native Kazakhstan (although he also became a Canadian citizen in 2007 while playing with the Leafs). On Sunday (March 8), Barys went up three games to two  against Avangard in their KHL conference quarterfinal playoff series. Game 6 goes Tuesday (March 10). I’ll update this if the messenger pigeon makes it through enemy lines.

Nik-Antropov-wedding

And here’s Nik and Lena’s wedding photo, which somehow ended up in the dayplanner gallery.

Mats-Sundin

Mats Sundin and longtime girlfriend Tina Fagerstrom, with whom he split in 2006. He married Josephine Johansson in 2009, the same year he retired from the NHL. The couple had a daughter, Bonnie, in 2012. Sundin lives in Sweden but is still in Toronto frequently. He has said several times he wishes he had retired as a Leaf instead of playing that final half-season for the Canucks.

Tie-Domi

Tie Domi with kids Carlin, Avery and Max. Yep, that little guy on the right in the Leafs cap grew up to be Max Domi, the  Phoenix Coyotes’ 2013 first-round draft pick and one of the stars of the gold-medal-winning Canadian team at the 2015 World Juniors hockey championship.

Steve-Thomas

Speaking of multi-generational hockey families, here’s high-scoring Steve Thomas and wife Lori with kids Lauren and Christian. Son Christian was a second-round draft pick by the Rangers in 2010 but is now part of the Montreal Canadiens organization, splitting time between the Habs and the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs. Steve and Christian are the only father and son combo to each score 50 goals or more in a single OHL season (Steve as a Marlie and Christian as an Oshawa General).

On a completely different tangent, you may remember that a much, much younger Steve Thomas had been famously towel-whipped by Patrick Swayze in the terrible 1986 hockey movie Youngblood (filmed primarily at Ted Reeve Arena). And then he was one of the team mates who held Rob Lowe down while Swayze shaved Lowe’s scrotum in a hazing ritual. Some things you can never live down, Stumpy.

Curtis-Joseph

Curtis and Nancy Joseph and their kids, Tristan, Taylor and Madison. Last I heard, CuJo and clan were still living in Oakville. The four-year, $24-million contract he signed with Toronto in 1998 — unbelievably huge at the time — set him up for life, although he kept playing until 2010. CuJo, by the way, has 454 career NHL wins — the most by any goalie who has never won a Stanley Cup.

Glenn-Healy

Hey, remember that guy — Glenn Healy? He was CuJo’s backup. Wonder whatever became of him? With Healy are wife Suzie and daughters Rachel and Meagan, the two oldest of the Healys’ three girls. I hear he plays a mean bagpipe. Maybe he got a gig as a musician after his pro hockey career ended.

Gary-Roberts

Gary Roberts with then-wife Tamra and daughter Jordan. The couple divorced a few years later and Roberts has two more kids with second wife Michelle. Since retiring as a player in 2009, Roberts has built an impressive high-performance training business in Toronto and is credited with having had a tremendous influence on the development of Tampa’s Steve Stamkos and other current NHL players.

Danny-Markov

Tough, crazy Danny Markov with wife Anna. Markov’s Leafs nickname was “Elvis” because of his Presley impersonations in the dressing room. In his time, Markov beat up another team’s mascot, shot a puck at a referee, and had a bad facial cut stitched up without anesthetic so he could get back on the ice faster, but he is probably best known for his repeated mocking salute of Jaromir Jagr after the Leafs knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs in 1999. It became known as the Markov Salute. (And I can’t believe I just wrote those words “Leafs knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs” … sends shivers up my spine.)

Igor-Korolev

This is a sad one — Igor Korolev with wife Vera and daughters Kristina and Anastasia. Igor was a Leaf from 1997 until being traded to Chicago in 2001. Later, Korolev returned to Russia to play hockey, but the family had become Canadian citizens in 2000 and made Toronto their permanent home. Korolev retired from the KHL as a player in 2010, becoming an assistant coach for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.  On Sept. 7, 2011, Korolev was killed with the entire Lokomotiv team when their plane crashed en route to Minsk to play the opening game of their season. Igor is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Wendel-Clark

Now here’s one I don’t understand, although it’s always nice to see the legendary Wendel Clark. Here he is with wife Denise and kids Kody, Kylie and Kassie on a little John Deere. As I said, it’s always good to see Wendel, but what’s he doing in a Leafs 2001 day planner? He retired at the end of the 1999-2000 season. Well, he did play for the Leafs for 13 seasons in three different go-rounds, so old habits can be hard to break … or maybe the Leafs figured he might come out of a retirement for one more season. Nowadays you can see Wendel and Denise at most Leaf home games.

And, to wrap up, here are a few more 2000-2001 Leafs who were a hell of a big deal in this town 15 years ago.

Alyn-McCauley

Bryan-McCabe

Gary-Valk

 

See what I mean about it being sort of weird to be looking at all these personal family photos and poking around private lives? Despite their on-ice stardom, it’s not as if these people were the Kardashians.

But none of this is nearly as invasive as some of the things being said about players and their loved ones today.

That 2000-2001 era really does seem better in so many ways. (Not quite as wonderful as the Dougie Gilmour era, from a fan’s point of view, but still pretty great.) If only one of those teams had won a Cup …

Was I Wrong About John Tory? Maybe…

- January 21st, 2015

Tory-Dec2014

I’ve said some terrible, terrible things about John Tory over the years.

I’ve also said nice things too, but they’ve usually come as a condescending pat on the back after a serious face-slapping.

Here’s my typical stance on John Tory from back in 2010 (and later repeated in this 2013 Nosey Parker blog post if you want to delve deeper into my antipathy):

“John Tory is a really nice guy (I can tell you that from personal experience) with a razor-sharp intellect and great skills as a committee member, a facilitator and a mediator.

“But he’s a complete loser as a frontline street brawler and he has the political survival instincts of a rabbit.”

Doesn’t sound too, too bad really — but that was just the friendly warm-up to a piece listing “10 or 20 or 100 reasons why John Tory should, in my opinion, forever forgo the idea of running for mayor of Toronto or dogcatcher of Dogpatch or grand poobah of LOWB Lodge No. 26 or whatever.”

Here’s a bit more from that 2010 assessment:

“Tory has always reminded me of former (briefly, because of his own ineptitude) PM Joe Clark, a political junkie, a nice guy with a good mind, and a complete putz when it came to making the right political decision. Neither of them has the deep, driving gut feeling that they know the ‘right’ thing to do in any given crisis — sometimes even when the ‘right’ thing they know in their guts isn’t the thing they would rationally choose to do based simply on calculation and inclination…

“Tory’s decision (to not run for mayor in 2010) did not ‘open the field up’ — it just reduced the field of losers by one.

“Yesterday I heard John Tory described as ‘charismatic’ and ‘the best mayor Toronto never had.’ He is neither. He might have made a better mayor than David Miller. Maybe not. We’ll never know. But John Tory was never ‘best’ at anything in politics except ‘second best.’ I know that sounds rough and unfair, but politics is rough and unfair. John Tory took his lumps but never had the royal jelly to turn them into political sugar.”

So that’s been my very consistent stance on candidate John Tory through his long and disastrous political losing streak.

Right up until he finally won the mayor’s job, that is.

Now I didn’t change my opinion just because Tory finally won something. Far from it — I applauded Tory’s victory, but only because it meant that neither Olivia Chow nor Doug Ford got to wear the mayor’s chain of office and possibly hurt Toronto even more than Tory was capable of doing.

I still didn’t hold out much hope for anything good to come from John Tory’s term in office. I thought he would probably strut and preen and pontificate and service his friends and clients on Bay Street … and not actually do much to deal with the real problems eating away at our big, bumptious city.

It’s been less than two months since Tory assumed office, so it’s way too early in the going to draw a definitive conclusion, but I’ve already come to a tentative preliminary assessment.

I may have misjudged John Tory.

I’m not 100% convinced yet, but I have to admit I’m already very impressed by the many things the new mayor has done in just a few short weeks to improve the quality of life in Toronto, to make it easier for citizens to get around, to sort out some of the city’s administrative chaos — and  he’s done it quickly and confidently, efficiently and productively, without fuss or blather or wasted effort.

Just do it. That seems to be Mayor John Tory’s motto.

And he’s more than willing to take informed advice and admit when his previous positions are proven wrong by the reality of the situations he faces as mayor.

But mostly I’m impressed by how decisive and cut-to-the-core-of-the-matter he’s been.

I had been expecting Tory to be more than a little wishy-washy, to let the status quo slide along sluggishly, to push tough decisions off into endless committee debate and staff reports.

He’s done none of that — so far. He’s been tough and assertive without being brash or a bully. He’s grabbed the bull by the horns without shovelling the bull. He’s taking a few chances and calculated risks to shift the playing field without being reckless or irresponsible.

And he’s done it with relative good humour, excellent PR savvy, (perhaps genuine) modesty and charm, admirable consensus building, sharp calculation and undeniable energy. And all without taking his eye off his long-term goals for the city’s advancement.

Now some or all of that may change in the coming months and years. The current state of affairs may just be the exciting days and hot nights of a political honeymoon. Tory may get bogged down in the endless, inevitable political squabbles and personal pettiness of real-life council stable-mucking. He may lose his way and revert to the tepid, ineffectual behaviour I had previously been ascribing to him.

But I don’t think so. I certainly hope not, anyway.

I am truly coming to believe that the John Tory we see now is the mayor we’re going to get for the next four years (at least).

And, if that’s the case, I will be overjoyed to eat crow, to take back my terrible words, to admit my (continued) failure as a political prognosticator and student of human nature … and to apologize profoundly, profusely and genuinely to Mayor John Tory for all the bad things I’ve said about him over the years.

We haven’t reached that point yet, but it may be coming.

As I said before, two months is really too short a time to make a conclusive shift in judgement. I’m going to give it at least six months, maybe even the first year, before I jump to new conclusions with both feet.

After all, Rob Ford did some pretty impressive things during his first year as mayor — before going haywire, alienating even his friends on council, and choosing bombast, chicanery and self-inflation (not to mention drug abuse) over real leadership and accomplishment.

And Tory has a lot of big-ticket, controversial issues to deal with in his first year as mayor — from his own SmartTrack transit plan to the future of the Gardiner Expressway and the island airport to the inevitable fallout from the Pan Am Games to full privatization of garbage collection and a new round of municipal labour contract negotiations in the fall.

UPDATE: I’m going through Tory’s proposed city budget right now and I have more than a few concerns. He really seems to be going off in 30 different directions — and throwing money in every one of those 30 directions. Hmmm. We’ll see. Maybe he’s just trying to get a few of his many proposals passed. Maybe he’s striking while the iron is hot and getting some needed cash infusions into areas he’s concerned have been neglected in the Ford years. Maybe he’s … you get my drift. Why am I suddenly making shit up to defend a guy I was calling a loser short days ago? I want to hear HIM explain the where-as and what-fors.

So we’ll see. But at least now I’m looking forward to John Tory’s first term as mayor with more hope and optimism and not with so much cynicism and trepidation (although some still lingers).

Don’t let us down, John. I would much prefer that I ended up being the failure rather than you.

 

An Idiot’s Guide To What’s Wrong With The Leafs

- November 20th, 2014

Look, I’m a complete idiot when it comes to hockey (and a lot of other things).

But even I can see what the Leafs’ real problem is. And the even bigger problem that it will be very, very difficult to fix the real problem.

So I’m pretty sure the Leafs brain trust (for lack of a better word) knows what the real problem is too. But I have little confidence they will address it head-on for the simple reason that the cure is far worse than the disease — at least in the short term. Even Brendan Shanahan, with his much-vaunted prestige and security, is going to be reluctant to step off the edge of that cliff — as long as the fat and truculent goose is still laying the occasional golden egg.

I’m talking about Phil Kessel, of course.

It’s one of the cardinal rules of hockey success — one that’s been proven over and over and over and acknowledged by every hockey guru I can think of — that your best players HAVE to be your hardest working, most dedicated players. That’s what sets team character and builds team resilience.

Can you say that about Phil Kessel? Hahahahahahahaha.

Phil Kessel is an incredibly talented scoring machine, but he’s a complete loser as a dedicated team player and, I fear, as anything approaching a positive influence within the team culture of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Right from the first day of training camp, coach Randy Carlyle acknowledged that there was one set of standards for Phil Kessel because of his idiot-savant scoring ability and another for everyone else. Well, that may have just been acknowledging reality, but it’s a recipe for disaster — as we’re seeing now.

The only way that kind of exceptionalism can even begin to work is if the team as a whole is strong enough and balanced enough and disciplined enough to carry the burden and fill in the cracks caused by a one-dimensional specialist who is also a selfish, immature floater.

That’s why Leafs management brought back Leo Komarov and added the other so-called “character” players who were supposed to bolster the team’s grit, discipline and integrity factors. Unfortunately, not enough of those players came on board — and they weren’t the team’s best players anyway.

To accentuate the problem, the Leafs are one of the youngest teams in the NHL so there’s an awful lot of general immaturity crowded into the dressing room along with Kessel’s own immaturity, narcissism, shallowness and obstinacy.

Even if everyone acknowledges that Kessel doesn’t have the character, maturity or skill set to be captain, the best player in the dressing room still sets the tone for the whole team.

So the Phil Kessel disease spreads to the other young players on the team — Tyler Bozak (Kessel’s BFF), James van Riemsdyk, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner, even (sadly) Morgan Rielly.  And so on and so on. They all end up running around madly, trying to score goals while the other more disciplined, less selfish teams systematically slice and dice ‘em.

As long as Phil Kessel is the best player on the Maple Leafs and as long as the best player on the Leafs isn’t the team’s hardest working, most dedicated player … it just doesn’t matter who the coach is or what system is supposedly in place.

I think we all can see that Randy Carlyle is going to take the fall unless there is some miraculous turn-around — not just a few timely goals and fortuitous breaks, but a transformation of team character.

So be it. Every coach is hired to be fired. But it won’t make any difference to how the team plays as long as the real problem remains. And, like I said before, it will take an awful lot more pain before Shanahan is willing to undertake the necessary surgery.

Phil Kessel, this is your team — not that you care. Live with it.

 

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It’s The Subway, Stupid

- October 28th, 2014

2014-election-map

Looking at an electoral map of Toronto the day after the city went to the polls, it’s blindingly obvious that what we have here is a tale of two cities.

I’ll leave it to everyone else to go through the myriad range of other socio-economic-political reasons for the divide because I’m going to focus on what I believe is the biggest cause of the chasm and the obvious alienation felt by people who live in the red wards: Toronto’s subway system and lack thereof.

If you look at the green (Tory) and purple (Chow) wards, it’s clear that those wards are the ones now served by Toronto’s existing subway lines. (The wards south of the subway are better served by connecting buses because the routes are shorter and service is generally more frequent and reliable as a result.)

The red wards are, generally speaking, a mass transit wasteland. Anybody who doesn’t understand that has never had to spend four and five hours a day (depending on the weather, etc.) commuting from the wilds of Rexdale to and from the city centre or been stuck on the Arctic plains of Malvern waiting for a bus in the middle of winter.

If John Tory truly wants to unite this city into One Toronto, he’d better start building subways as fast as possible. His SmartTrack plan using existing rail lines heads in that direction but still leaves the most isolated parts of Toronto ,,, well, isolated.

SmartTrack-map

Warren Kinsella, then with the Olivia Chow campaign, got into big trouble a few months ago by pointing out (in a controversial but thought-provoking manner) that problem in the west end of the city where SmartTrack just doesn’t go.

In the east end, Tory’s campaign team resolved the SmartTrack failure there simply by pretending the eastern half of Scarborough doesn’t exist. (Just look at his schematic map — there’s a hell of a lot of Scarborough missing.) The Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line (which I doubt Tory would have proposed if Ford hadn’t already gotten it on the books) will go part of the way to dealing with the problem, but there’s still an enormous unserviced void in the northeast of this city. Same for the northwest.

Start building the subways to service those areas — NOW. It’s one of Toronto’s great shames that, over the past two decades, our city leaders haven’t budgeted on a consistent year-in, year-out basis for constant, evolutionary additions to our subway network as every major city in Europe does, usually at the rate of one or two new subway stops per year — PLUS the creation of entire new lines as the need becomes apparent. (As I’ve written before, the federal government should be picking up a far greater portion of the construction tab, but we won’t go there again right now.)

I’m a big proponent of major subway systems for major cities. They work. In fact, they’re absolutely essential to the survival and enhancement of any true metropolis. And they bring people together.

At the very least, Tory’s SmartTrack plan should have proposed extending the Sheppard subway line east and west to complete logical transit circuits.

And don’t tell me the northeast and the northwest don’t have the population bases to warrant full subway service.

Toronto’s still got a lot of growing to do. We’ve only got about 2.8 million people living in the city right now. Mumbai, on about the same amount of land (a little less actually), has somewhere in the vicinity of 13 million. Seoul has about 10 million (again, in a slightly smaller area than Toronto).

We certainly don’t want to become Mumbai or even Soeul, but there’s a lot of middle ground in between. New York City, for example, has more than 8.5 million inhabitant living rather well in an area only about 15 per cent larger than Toronto’s municipal boundaries. So I think it’s safe to say that in the next few decades, Toronto’s population is easily going to double and keep rising.

And where are all those new, teeming millions going to live?

In the northeast and the northwest, of course, the major areas of Toronto with the room for serious population expansion.

Forget “If you build it, they will come…” They’re coming anyway, so start building now or be well and truly damned 20 years from now.

As for the greater cost of subways versus LRTs, that’s actually a red herring. A subway may initially cost more than twice as much as a Light Rapid (or Rail) Transit line to build, but subways are built to have a 100-year lifespan while LRTs only have a 30-year lifespan. Anyone who ever rides on the decrepit, unreliable Scarborough LRT (or SRT or whatever you want to call it) can tell you the 30-year estimate is a joke.

Do the math and you can see that — even leaving inflation out of the equation — subways are a bargain compared to LRTs over the 100-year life of the mass transit line.

As for reliability — regardless of what the propagandists say now — there’s a reason LRTs are called LIGHT Rapid Transit. I want to be on a heavy-duty, industrial-strength subway train in the middle of a Canadian winter.

I’ll say it one more time: Anyone who doesn’t understand the importance of getting proper subway lines extended into the northeast and northwest sectors of this city has never had to endure the endless, uncertain treks to and from those places on the TTC’s existing bus routes or (God have mercy on your soul) on the SRT.

All those areas want is to be treated as equal (and equally worthy) partners in the community of communities that make up Toronto. Regardless of what you think of the Ford Bros, they were the only ones who seemed to really get that — despite John Tory’s slick slogans. (I don’t trust the word of either Ford further than I can throw them, of course, but that’s a different matter. As for Tory, I give him the benefit of the doubt … for the moment.)

If that subway expansion doesn’t happen — and pretty damn quick — Toronto will have much, much bigger problems than a city electoral map divided by a Christmas colour scheme.

 

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The David Soknacki Blog Post I Never Posted

- September 10th, 2014

Soknacki

I wrote it weeks ago. I don’t know why I held off posting it at the time: Perhaps the municipal election still seemed a bit too far away or maybe I just wasn’t ready to publicly commit to a monogamous political relationship.

It’s too late now, in any case. David Soknacki has left the arena and I am bereft. Despondent, disconsolate, doleful, lachrymose, melancholy, saturnine and downright sullen. My political parrot is, in other words, dead and all I am left with is this Roget’s Thesaurus of crestfallen synonyms.

Not that it would probably matter. Soknacki had essentially no chance of winning the Oct. 27 election for mayor of Toronto. But if he had remained in the race, I would have at least had an honourable and responsible place to park my ballot.

Now? I wouldn’t — couldn’t — vote for any of the three leading candidates for the job, even if I held my nose. And I’m not holding my nose for any of those stinkers.

So, just as part of the mourning process while I evaluate my future voting intentions, I give you — uncensored and unexpurgated — The David Soknacki Blog Post I Never Posted, which would have been entitled …

 

Why I Plan To Vote For David Soknacki As Mayor

It’s safe to say a lot of people reading this are saying “David Who?” because, even though Soknacki has a well-established track record in city politics and was one of the first legitimate candidates to enter the mayoral race (and promises to still be in it at the end), he really hasn’t made a strong impact on Toronto voters.

The corollary of this is that many other people who actually do know who David Soknacki is (and maybe even admire him) will say, “Why would you waste your vote on Socks when he’s obviously not going to win? Your one vote could mean the difference in whether X, Y or Z becomes mayor. Could you live with yourself if X (or Y or Z, depending on your politics) won because you threw your vote away on Soknacki?”

The answer is, “Yes, I could. Easily. And proudly.”

Why, for God’s sake? Explain your kamikaze logic.

Simple. By voting for David Soknacki, I’m not throwing my vote away. I’m doing the right thing, as I see it. And that’s never a wasted vote.

A truly wasted vote, in my opinion, is casting your ballot for someone you don’t really believe in — and maybe don’t even like or trust — just because he or she is the lesser of two or three evils. In the end, you will always regret that wasted vote.

soknacki-kimmel

Now, don’t get me wrong: I do not support all of Soknacki’s positions and I don’t think he has the ability to solve all of Toronto’s myriad problems.

In fact, I’m on the opposite side of the fence from Soknaki on a number of issues. Take, for example, the proposed Scarborough subway extension, which I’m strongly in favour of and which is endorsed by mayoral candidates Rob Ford and John Tory (and previously by Karen Stintz before she flitted off in a snit).

I favour the subway option because it’s more robust, more integrated, more dependable and, in the long run (over the 100-year life of a subway line compared to the 30-year lifespan of an LRT), far more cost-efficient.

And it treats Scarborough as a homogenous part of the City of Toronto, not some poor-relative backwater which somehow doesn’t rate being on the same mass transit grid as the better-connected parts of the city. (Much the same way as the Bloor Viaduct finally stitched together the eastern part of Toronto with the central and western parts a century ago.)

Soknacki is opposed to switching from the already-approved LRT plan to the newly favoured subway plan, not for ideological or opportunistic reasons, but because he believes it’s the right thing to do

Soknacki has, by far, the most comprehensive and thought-out (and consistent and believable) position of any of the mayoral candidates when it comes to urban transportation and fighting gridlock and building infrastructure.

He’s laid his platform out forthrightly and clearly (well, as clearly as a techo-nerd can, given his commitment to accuracy and objectivity) in a number of detailed policy papers, while his higher-profile opponents dither and slither and pretend their airy-fairy transit plans are even possible (especially within the time and financial frameworks they fantasize about).

Meanwhile, Soknacki chugs along, looking for realistic, affordable, effective ways of  reducing — if not outright eliminating — Toronto’s current traffic nightmare and keeping Canada’s largest, most economically important city from grinding to a halt while we wait for some promised miracles decades down the road.

And part of that co-ordinated, progressive quest is Soknacki’s mantra: “Politicians should never interfere with the construction of new transit routes that are already designed, engineered and funded.”

He’s right, of course. If you keep changing horses in mid-stream, you’re all going to drown eventually.

Having said that, I firmly believe it is just plain stupid — if not criminally irresponsible — to keep throwing tons of good money at a demonstrably bad idea, just because it’s been approved already.

I still firmly believe that LRTs don’t hold a candle to subways when it comes to reliability and endurance — especially in a Canadian winter — but Soknacki is good to go with the Scarborough LRT. He says it can provide necessary capacity at subway speeds at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the construction time compared to the proposed Scarborough subway.

Soknacki knows his stuff — much better than I — so even though my gut keeps telling me “Subway,” I am prepared to accept his evaluation of the situation and take his word that the Scarborough LRT will not be a colossal white elephant 10 or 15 years down the road.

Because I trust him. Because I know he’s done his homework and his grunt work. Because I know he’s got a good mind and a good heart. And because I know he isn’t distracted and blown off course by gusts of passing fancy and visceral enthusiasm and blinkered ideology and self-serving partisanship and mindless jingoism.

When Soknacki is asked a tough question and you see, in his eyes, that his brain’s going clickety-click, you can be pretty sure the main thought going through his mind isn’t “How is this answer going to help me personally?” It’s “What is the right thing to do?”

If he was the self-serving type, he wouldn’t lay himself open to attack by openly saying he would consider new transit taxes as part of a comprehensive, rational transportation programme that deals with everything from getting the downtown relief subway line underway to properly automating the transit system to keeping the city’s road infrastructure from caving in on itself to finding better, more efficient ways of moving people and goods in and out of the city.

Take something as simple as this: He would introduce — immediately and without fuss — early bird TTC fares to get more people on buses and subway trains when they’re less crowded and service is better.

He would clear core roads of onstreet parking to keep traffic moving better. He would look for solutions that involve more smart thinking and innovation than throwing gobs of money at a problem in the hope it will go away.

That’s just transit, barely scraping the surface of transit. And Soknacki’s miles ahead of his opponents in that regard. In my opinion, anyway.

He’s got well-thought-out plans for bringing the police services budget under control, for getting council out of its dysfunctional funk and bringing all regions and sectors of the city into the decision-making process.

He’s actually got plans for dealing with the crises of Toronto homelessness (yes, it’s real) and the breakdown of the city’s social housing fabric while expanding rental market housing and protecting the homeowners who carry most of the tax burden in this city — and doing all of this with existing tools, not whining and waiting endlessly for the province or federal government to ride to the rescue with saddlebags of imaginary cash.

Most importantly, he knows what he’s talking about and knows how to put his words into action. He’s not a gasbag or blitherer or ditherer.

So I’m planning to vote for David Soknacki on Monday, Oct. 27.

I may change my mind over the next two months, but I doubt it. David Soknacki might not be wildly charismatic, but he is very experienced and smart and thoughtful and honest and responsible and consistent and genuine. He’s a good person and I am pretty darn sure he can (and will) do what he says he wants to do.

In the end, I trust David Soknacki. What greater virtue could you seek in a mayor?

 

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