A wave swept through city council last November, and with it came a lot of new faces in municipal politics, including a young firebrand from U of T.
Three months ago The Varsity profiled 26 year-old Adam Giambrone, a U of T student running for municipal office. He is now Councilor Giambrone.
Wearing his politics on his sleeve, Giambrone clearly stands against developers running the city of Toronto, and was a staunch supporter of Mayor David Miller during the election. Though always tactful, Giambrone pointed out that Mario Silva, whom he replaced, proudly admitted to having more corporate funding than any other councilor. With Giambrone, there was a real change in leadership.
Ironically, as Giambrone came in during the November election, another pro-Miller councillor was voted out. 71 year-old Anne Johnston, whom Miller refers to as his “political Mum”, began as alderman for a North Toronto ward in 1972five years before Giambrone was born. She arrived with David Crombie, who, like Miller, was a populist mayor determined to preserve Toronto’s neighbourhoods over the interests of big development.
Back then, instead of the Toronto Island bridge, the controversy was over apartment complexes, typified by St. Jamestown at Parliament and Wellesley. Very much on the side of the neighbourhoods versus big development, Johnston was repeatedly re-elected until this election when she supported the erection of a 45-storey apartment building at Yonge and Eglinton. This created a fury in her riding and lead to her defeat in November.
“I sort of got thrust into politics,” said Johnston, “I was beautifully nave. I was sued for bias on my first statement: I was asking why we couldn’t do certain things, and I kept hearing why you couldn’t do this and why you couldn’t do that and I said, ‘well if you can’t do things legally what can we do illegally?’ What I should have said is ‘what can we do without having to worry about the legal consequences?'”
Giambrone, on the other hand, has incredible political savvy for someone in office only few months. Although this is his first time in government, he is no newcomer to politics, being the president of the federal NDP. As well, he ran for the same council seat three years ago. When he lost, he patiently built up community ties while waiting for a second opportunity to be elected. Asked if it was what he expected, Giambrone replied, “I had a pretty good idea. It’s pretty much lived up to what I thought.”
Despite their different reasons for entering the same job, Johnston and Giambrone have similar ideals: more transparency in government, a healthier environment, and better services.
Johnston would like to be remembered for fighting heavy metal pollution downtown, pushing for mandatory wheelchair access in new buildings, or more recently, being at the forefront of the MFP inquiry, but she was pilloried for supporting a high-rise development. “If you’re going to save the environs around the GTA area you’ve got to make a choice of whether you’re going to just let there be urban sprawl or whether you’re going to focus on where you should have development. Yonge and Eglinton is a disgusting corner. Absolutely disgusting. It’ll be much better once Minto builds its building. I’m unpopular right now,” she said, “because I think you need the development in the Yonge-Eglinton area in order to save the neighbourhoods.”
Giambrone has yet to be tested with the dilemma of having to make potentially unpopular choices. Indeed, things are going pretty smoothly so far. Stepping into negotiations just weeks before a development was to go before the Ontario Municipalities Board (OMB) his office successfully argued a case for more compensation to the city for the development. “Six to seven hundred thousand dollars is going to come back, just from that one decision, so I earned my pay for the next seven or eight years.”
He is fortunate to be entering politics at a time when his concerns will likely match those of people in power, certainly at the municipal level and possibly at the provincial level. Said Johnston, “I couldn’t have believed that it became as right wing as it did [municipally] since the Harris government came in [provincially]. There are still remnants of it on city council, people like Denzil Minnan-Wong and Case Ootes.”
Says Giambrone, “You see the Denzil Minnan-Wongs, Norm Kelly, Doug Holyday: Mike Harris supporters and Mel Lastman supporters; people who were big in the Lastman administration who were advocating for the Island Airport. Then you see other people who you knew would be in support of the [present] mayor, the Joe Mihevc’s, the Joe Pantalones, myself. So there is that definite block. Then there are the people in the middle who haven’t really decided, who generally tend to sway towards the mayor, because why not.”
“I think that probably if you want to compare Giambrone with me,” reflected Johnston, “he’s fresh and I’m jaded, there’s no question about it. I’m cynical, which I wasn’t before. But I’m still optimistic. I think that we need young pure unspoiled people at City Hall. There’s still a lot of the old sort around, and we’ve got to get rid of them.”
But how would she have felt if she’d been voted back in, but Miller hadn’t made it? “Oh, I would have died. I think I would probably have died.”
“It’s a very different time now,” said Giambrone, “It’s a new era. David [Miller] said that there are no back rooms. There’s a real sense that it is much more open.”
Perhaps with more consultation Johnston would have survived in this election, but she doesn’t think so. “There was a desire for change. It was like a tidal wave, absolutely nothing I could do about it.”