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Sarah Thomson

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THE NAME’S THOMSON, SARAH THOMSON

Originally published Feb 10, 2010.

Humility. I was raised to value it, treasure the fact that I could have my own personal accomplishments and keep them to myself – my strength quietly feeding off my actions with no need for recognition or reward. But now, as I shoot myself into the world of politics, my advisors say I must explain where my inner strength comes from, where I learned to negotiate and where I picked up my ability to lead, and how I developed the capacity to motivate people to work together towards one vision. The fact that I am not a politician is an asset, not a liability. Career politicians learn to follow the status quo, they don’t challenge it, so they don’t move forward, and they aren’t made fun of, or laughed at. They look for ways to appear busy while not actually doing anything. They form committees to address the issues and avoid taking responsibility. I am not a politician, I am a businesswoman. I haven’t changed much from that awkward kid I was at eight – making new friends; connecting them to other friends I made, and building tree forts in the woods. The tree forts have changed to businesses and my friends have grown older, but the kid inside me is still there. I’ve grown more confident than I was as a child, but that comes from living up to the person I want to be and taking full accountability for my actions. I suppose the summer I left home at 15 and couch-surfed around the country helped me understand that how I defined myself came directly from the choices I made. I learned that hitting rock bottom is about losing who you want to be to the world around you, and that nothing is ever worth that compromise. I am more open than I was as a child. This bothers some people, but I have learned that it takes strength to be open, and discussing my flaws both disarms and warms people to me. I am not conventional and this allows me to see the world differently, to find opportunities that others might overlook. My ability to negotiate probably stems from my 24 years of business experience, but it is also connected to the great respect I have for people from all walks of life. The management company I founded at the age of 18 (grossing $30 million/year) required that I put systems and structures in place for my management team and employees, and that I motivate and steer them towards a common vision. Our mandate was to go into service stations in crisis and make them profitable. My company did this successfully all over Ontario for 12 years. But it wasn’t until I became a social entrepreneur with the launch of Women’s Post Media that I learned the most vital lessons in my career. I built Women’s Post in a shrinking print industry against many much larger competitors all fighting for advertising dollars. I knew that businesswomen needed a community. And despite the odds, we grew and have become the trusted source of information and inspiration to over 300,000 businesswomen. My experience as a social entrepreneur is the most important training that a candidate for Mayor can have. It taught me to listen and understand the needs of my community. It taught me that complete transparency allows innovation to enter. It taught me to build strong foundations and relationships within the community. A business owner knows how to carry on despite hardship, how to run lean through difficult times, and how to spend responsibly for growth. I have learned how to create something from nothing but an idea, and what it takes to be successful. It is this experience as an entrepreneur that makes me the strongest candidate for Mayor of Toronto. If you want better service from the TTC, help me by making a small donation atwww.sarahthomson.ca. Together we can make Toronto a world class city again. I believe: •Subways must be built for the long term. They have a higher capital cost than Light Rail Systems (LRT), but long-term maintenance and operating cost is less. Subways have very little impact on the cultural vitality of the neighbourhoods they are built under. LRTs destroy the ebb and flow of neighbourhoods, and in the case of St. Clair West, they are much more expensive to build than initial estimates, and construction is more imposing than expected. •We must open up the city to new ideas and our entrepreneurs. By creating a system of managed competition on all government run services, businesses can bid alongside the public departments for the privilege of providing services to the people of Toronto. Opening the bidding process will allow knowledge and ideas to flow in as well as accountability. It will improve services and lower our costs. •I believe that every city department must have their books and budgets open, they must be transparent and online for all to see. The people of Toronto have a right to know where every penny of their tax dollars is being spent. City corporations (such as the TTC) must be held accountable for and must not exceed their budgets. For example, the current management at the TTC has gone over budget year after year ($388 million last year.) Authorized by the CFO of the Sarah Thomson for Mayor Campaign

MOMENTS CAUGHT IN TIME

May 1, 2010

BEAUTY

A cold snap makes our skating rink freeze in hours. It is smooth, like glass. Our parents woke us to go skating. I glide over the smooth ice, floating; thousands of stars twinkle far away, silent in the sky above. The night is so still my blades barely make a sound over the ice. A dog’s bark miles away carries over the fields. For a moment everything is aligned – beauty, time, space, understanding – then it is gone.

It is a hot August afternoon. The weight of the air presses down, heavy. My brother and I have spent most of the day exploring the cool forest until dark thunderclouds in the distance rumble. We race up our long driveway, the wind pushing on our backs. We climb the tall ash tree that is swaying by the barn. Holding tight we watch storm clouds roll towards us, black over the golden fields. We start singing Born Free at the top of our lungs, the wind catching our voices and taking them away.

EMPTINESS

It’s 7pm and the sun is setting. Long shadows stretch far across the lake. The hospital’s shadow is a square block on the ground below. My father’s breathing is laboured. I notice the seagulls in the sky flying high above the lake. I sit beside the hospital bed, tired. The weeks seem to have meshed together. I hold his hand and he stirs. Opening his eyes he asks the time. I look at the clock on the wall.

“8 o’clock.”

“I made it through the night?” he asks in surprise.

“No, it’s 8pm Dad.” He sighs, exhausted from a long fight.

I wake as the sun comes up, listening to the nurses begin their day outside our room. My father’s breathing is methodical, comforting. I watch the sun on the water. Time slips by. The room is filled with sunlight and something in the room changes, shifting the world slightly, stirring the air. I look at my father and know that he’s leaving with the breath that comes slowly from his open mouth. The room becomes empty. I walk to the nurse’s station and tell them I think my father has died. Code blue is called out over the P.A. system.

LOVE

We wade through the deep snow at the top of the hill, pushing through the green pine branches out into the clearing above the lake. We watch the snowmobiles drive over the ice far away, their noise barely making it up to us. We lie on the blanket of snow staring up at the blue sky and talk about our life and the things we will do together. Will we have two kids or six? Where will we make our home? The future is a path we both want to walk, hand in hand.

It is early in the morning and still dark when Greg wakes me. The rain is loud on the roof of the car and the wipers are going fast; the water streaming off our windshield. “I think I took a wrong turn. I’m not sure if we are still in Georgia.” I think for a moment and then sit up. “Awesome, an adventure.” He looks at me, eyes smiling and takes my hand. We drive through the rain that ends as we reach the mountains of Tennessee. The sun lights up the eastern sky as we wind our way through the mountains. Small clouds form wisps that trail up from the forest in the valleys below us. We both know our path ahead doesn’t matter as long as we take it together.

Our little boys climbed into our bed sometime in the night. The early morning light is melting away the darkness in our room. We can hear a few birds singing in the tree outside our window. Together, as if they had planned it, our little boys begin softly singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

AN OPEN LETTER TO MARCUS GEE

May 18, 2010

Dear Marcus Gee,

Today I read with great interest your article titledSubway Tunnels in the Sky. The title itself is brilliant, but I was surprised to see that you – of all people, one of the most thorough and creative journalists out there – have attributed to me an error in judgment that I have not made.

Allow me to clearly explain the importance of my plan for the expansion of a subway system and the funding model that I introduced back in March.

Expanding Toronto’s subway system over the next decade is a vital first step to putting Toronto back on the world stage. Great cities have great subway systems, mediocre cities go for cheaper alternatives. An expanded subway system will reduce gridlock and traffic congestion; it will tie our neighbourhoods together and bring development to high priority areas that need it most; and it is a long-term strategy for economic growth in our city. It is vital that we build it out over the next decade.

But let me be very clear, it will be costly and can only be done by combining my four funding strategies:

1 Rush hour tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway. This will allow commuters the opportunity to contribute to expanding our subway system.

2 Working with the province to secure long-term provincial funding.

3 Working with private developers wanting development rights above subway stations and having them share in the cost of building subway stations.

4 Creating a subway bond that will allow the city to build out the subway quickly over the next decade.

I have never claimed that any one of these methods alone can fund the entire expansion, and I believe that anyone who claims that just one funding method can cover such a huge cost has not done their research.

Mr. Gee, please feel free to contact me if you ever need clarity on the policy platforms I launch. My telephone number is 416-964-5850.

Sincerely,

Sarah Thomson

Candidate for Mayor of Toronto

CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO

June 15, 2010

Change is never easy to bring about because most people prefer the safety of what they know to the uncertainty of what comes with change.

I’m not sure if it was the short time I spent couch surfing and sleeping on park benches as a teen, or the experiences I have had since, but I have learned that the one and only thing I can truly count on is change.

I remember hitting what I thought was rock bottom when I was just 15 years old. I was demoralized, alone, and realizing that I wasn’t the centre of the universe, and the people who passed by my huddled form in a doorway would go on despite me. It was then that I understood that change would happen with or without me, but the decisions I made would impact it. I could influence change, but I had to own the responsibility of making myself into the person I wanted to be.

I started pumping gas at the age of 16, and at 18 started my own company leasing service stations across Ontario. At 24, I won recognition as the top dealer in Canada and by the time I was 30 I had built a multi-million dollar company that focused on turning around failing service stations and making them successful.

The key to turning around each business came from changing the predominant attitude of failure to an attitude of success.

I wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo; to change the way things had always been done. I was one of the first to bring a retail component, to break from the traditional products like oil and windshield washer fluid and bring in different items like chips, chocolate bars, and juice. I was highly criticized for it and taunted by my counterparts for being a silly woman who didn’t know what I was doing.

I persisted and eventually others realized that by adding this additional retail component to my locations I was offering convenience to the local area residents and attracting them back. Combine this with cleaning up each location and motivating the staff to be friendly, and it seemed a simple recipe for success.

But the fact is that bringing about change is never simple. It is one of the most challenging tasks one can do, but also one of the most rewarding. Service stations with stores are now common and it is in part because of my desire to change the way that industry went about doing business.

I launched Women’s Post Media, a business publication – in newspaper format – designed specifically for women. I believed that businesswomen wanted and needed something to promote and unite them. I went to industry experts to get their backing, but was told that my venture was a long-shot and not likely to succeed because women were more interested in gardening and fashion.

Again I challenged the status quo, and despite having no experience in the industry, I managed to build a successful company turning the newspaper into a magazine and building a large community of businesswomen both through the print and online publications. Today it is a highly sought after community and I am glad I did not listen to the “industry experts” and those who told me I wouldn’t succeed.

And yet, despite my desire to constantly challenge the status quo, in my early twenties I took up the hobby of restoring old homes and have never given up. Maybe it is the stability of returning an old home to its original beauty that attracts me to this hobby. The reassurance of knowing that despite the changes, what lies underneath – the strong foundations – will always remain. Having solid foundations is the key to navigating through the inevitable changes that life entails.

MY TORONTO, YOUR TORONTO, OUR TORONTO

October 5, 2010

Every time I fly, drive, or take the island ferry back to Toronto, I feel a sense of coming home. There is something about our city – its beauty and its flaws – that makes Toronto the place that I will always call home.

I was raised to fix things that break, to build things that last, and to make long-term decisions rather than short-term mistakes. Over the years I developed a hobby of restoring old homes to their original splendor. I know how to use a drill, a chop saw, and a hammer. I can do electrical, plumbing, and drywall.

My calloused hands are rough compared to the soft and often sweaty hands of the politicians I shake after each debate. I am the only woman on stage and yet the only one with rough hands scarred by hard work. I’m often asked what makes me different from the other candidates and I usually look down at my hands before answering.

I am the only candidate who has experience building companies from the ground up, bringing change to an entire industry, forming a vision, and leading others towards that vision – and the only one with calloused hands.

Like that of most entrepreneurs, my leadership style is collaborative – it takes collaboration to build a business from the ground up. And like most entrepreneurs I’ve learned how to sell good ideas and build consensus. I know the importance of negotiation, and I value change for the opportunities it can bring.

Before putting my name on the ballot for Mayor of Toronto, I approached the role as any entrepreneur would. I studied the city, looking for opportunities to do things better, for areas where change would bring huge success. I met with all sorts of people – from bus drivers, parks workers, and maintenance crews to neighborhood associations, and people in management positions at the city.

I discovered the main problem with our municipal government is the lack of communication between city council, management, front-line workers, and the people of our city. It is the cause of all our over-spending, our poor planning, and our failing transit system.

Without strong communication between city council, our front lines, management, and our people, most decisions – whether they be spending, planning, or transit – are uninformed. We must restructure the communication process.

It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing is easy. It will take re-engagement with the people of Toronto, who have had the doors of the city locked to them for years. Public consultation must come first and foremost – before planning, before policy, before any city decisions are made.

I have a vision of a Toronto where our youth, our business owners, our entrepreneurs, and our people get a better shot at achieving their goals. A city where an extensive subway system joins mixed-income communities; where mixed-use zoning and lower business taxes allow our businesses to thrive; a city where our high-priority neighbourhoods become strong, flourishing communities.

Join me in working towards this vision.

To find out how you can help achieve this vision please go to www.sarahthomson.ca or call the Sarah Thomson for Mayor Campaign office at 416-964-5850.

Approved by the CFO of the Sarah Thomson for Mayor Campaign.

PUBLISHER’S JOURNAL

October 25, 2010

Stepping down was not an easy decision, especially with the growth in ego required to lead and protect a campaign. But with only two staff, two full-time volunteers, and no funds my chances of winning were slim given the fact that the other leading teams had over 20 staff and even more volunteers. That we made it up to third place at one point was a huge achievement that shows the amazing talent I had on my team.

I ran for Mayor because I was fed up with the status quo, the locked doors at city hall, the lack of long-term vision, and the wasteful spending. I ran because I believe that the people of Toronto deserve an expanded subway system that would enable us to achieve so much more. I ran because I love Toronto.

I stepped down because I love Toronto.

With over 80 per cent of my support coming from Toronto’s left-leaning voters, I was creating a division. If I remained in the race the left wing vote would be split between myself, George Smitherman, and Joe Pantelone – giving Rob Ford an easy win and leaving Toronto without the expanded transit system we so desperately need.

I could not do that to my city.

Over the months I’ve watched the top four candidates closely both on- and off-stage to the point where I know their stump speeches so well I can repeat them. I can tell when Joe needs more sleep or when something is amiss on Rocco’s campaign just from the way they answer debate questions. I grew to respect George Smitherman and found his budget blueprint to be a smart, balanced plan. Like me, George believes in expanding our transit system to strengthen our economy. He understands that our diversity is our strength, and that we must make Toronto into a much more efficient business-friendly city. George has the vision Toronto needs to excel forward.

I hope my sacrifice will be enough to get George elected, but male pride could be the wedge that guarantees Ford a win. Joe Pantelone is a kind and friendly man, but he refuses to acknowledge that anything is wrong with city hall and that people are angry about it. That Miller chose to endorse him to try to protect his own legacy may very well backfire by splitting the left wing vote thus guaranteeing Ford a victory.

Gentlemen, don’t let the glory of winning get in the way of doing what is best for Toronto. Joe, if George is still ahead of you in the polls by the 18th, as he has been this entire campaign, I implore you to put Toronto before yourself and stand behind him as I have. It is the right, reasonable, and responsible thing to do for our city.

It was an honour to be a candidate for Mayor of Toronto, and I was very fortunate to have such an amazing experience. I set out knowing that I had much to learn. Over the months I made mistakes, had some achievements, and learned a great deal about people. I learned to have a sense of responsibility when dealing with the press and to be careful about late night tweets after a glass of wine.

Again thank you to those who considered supporting me as Mayor. I will work to give all I can to strengthening our city in other ways.

MY AFFAIR WITH TORONTO

Originally published on December 14, 2010.

A year ago I decided to run for Mayor of Toronto because I wanted to give back to a city that has given me so much over the years.

I set out hoping that I might influence the discussion and get people talking about subway expansion and the need for a restructured, fiscally responsible, government. But I didn’t expect how much the experience of the campaign would change me.

In some ways it was very much like falling in love. During the spring, my first dates were at churches and community centres, and through the heated debates and passion-filled evenings my affection grew, and over the summer the love blossomed. I spent days and nights canvassing the city, attending events, and developing a huge respect for the creativity and humility of our people. I walked through sun-scorched streets, listened to the children laughing and playing in our tree-filled parks, and became devoted during quiet summer evenings downtown.

I think my husband caught on, but he chose to accept my affair with the city – indeed he believed I’d be a better woman for it.

He put up with the days and months I wasn’t there, filling the void by donating extra time to the charity he works for. He put up with my late nights and my restlessness after the evening debates and he learned to sleep through the typing I did on my laptop late into the night.

Since the election, we have spent many evenings drinking wine and talking all night long about everything and nothing at all. We’ve both grown and changed over the year. There is a sense of newness, like the first time – but with none of the shyness.

I learned so much over 10 months: how to debate; how to speak easily with crowds; and the importance of humility. I developed a way to ignore those who threw insults. I faced a number of editorial boards and overlooked the bias of a few individuals who should not be calling themselves journalists.

But most of all, I learned how truly exceptional my small team was: Robert Perry, Kinga Surma, John AD Tory, and his brother George Tory, who joined us halfway through the campaign. We grew together, we learned together, and we created some terrific memories together.

My love affair with the city came to an abrupt end on October 25, and although sad, and a little heartbroken, I know the relationship isn’t completely over, and I’ll always remain a good friend.

Sarah Thomson is a former Toronto mayoral candidate and the publisher of Women’s Post.

Running for Mayor of Toronto: Step 2

This blog post was originally published on January 9, 2010.

I’ve spent the past few months studying the challenges facing Toronto. I have learned the issues, met and had discussions with lawyers, doctors, business owners, bankers, politicians, and cab drivers. I found that most people love this city, but they worry about the fact that businesses are leaving and our city run services are getting worse.

Over the last two weeks I have worked with policy advisors and developed a unique platform that reflects what the people of Toronto want to see changed…and there are a lot of changes.

The Facebook (Elect Sarah Thomson for Mayor of Toronto) and Twitter
(@ThomsonTO) pages are up and our website should be up by the middle of next week. We have begun the video taping, and photo shoots.

Life has changed quite a bit – instead of standing behind the cameras I’m now in front of them.

My press launch

This article was originally published on January 29, 2010.

The launch on Tuesday was a terrific success. My team did a great job and we’re still answering emails and calls of support. I knew people would like my platform but I didn’t expect such an overwhelming wave of support.

But I have to admit the best moment wasn’t having the cameras and lights on me, but came in the moments just afterward when my husband whispered in my ear that he was proud of me. I’ll continue to climb mountains just so I can hear those words from him. Love can conquer all…

As the publisher of Women’s Post I also didn’t expect to get much print support but the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star gave me some pretty terrific mentions. Thank you and I tip my hat to you.

This week has reinforced what I have known all along about the art of writing. The best writers (true artists) are honest people and do not allow their politics or personal views to distort their words. They don’t have ego problems and are able to remain honest and true to their work. All of the writers I have hired for the Women’s Post are confident people with integrity. A writer without integrity is a sad thing to behold.

I had an interview with a writer who asked me where my confidence came from and warning bells went off in my head. A writer who doesn’t understand where confidence comes from is a dangerous one. I wondered if he would take my words and twist them. And he did. It is such a shame when art gets compromised by the loss of integrity.

Some people have warned me not to be so open and honest because the political world will eat me up. I heard the same warnings when I started the Women’s Post. What they don’t understand is that true strength and confidence comes from never compromising who I am.

Dignity to the defeated

This article was originally published on December 16, 2010.

I attended the Mayor’s inauguration last week with Don Cherry in his bright pink jacket as the guest of honour. People in the room smiled the same way they smile when a clown walks into a circus ring.

I don’t know Mr. Cherry well, but I was looking forward to a positive, team building type of speech from the former coach.

The inauguration is a ceremony designed to recognize the Mayor and the responsibility that every councilor will hold for the next 4 years. It is a moment when all councilors are recognized for winning their seat, but also an acceptance of the political agenda the Mayor will set moving forward.

There is no doubt that everyone in the room, councilors and guests, acknowledged that the left wing political agenda was defeated. The councilors were humble, they accepted Mayor Ford’s leadership respectfully, and the ceremony seemed to fulfill its intention, that is, until Don Cherry spoke.

Instead of speaking about building consensus and working together, Cherry pretended to be angry at the press and called them a bunch of “ left-wing pinko’s.” So desperate to grab a headline, he ignored the importance of the ceremony and instead chose to piss all over those on the left side of the political spectrum. The conservative in me cringed at his complete lack of humility.

After spending 10 months in front of the media, I know very well that with the spotlight comes prodding from the press. Anyone who has spent years as a public figure learns how to ignore bad press. Thus I found Mr. Cherry’s anger questionable at best, but it paved an easy path for him to launch his attention grabbing headline — “put that in your pipe you left-wing pinko kooks.” A line he so obviously and desperately wanted to use. Classy or pathetic — you be the judge?

I hope Mayor Ford noticed the humble and accepting faces of each councilor prior to Mr. Cherry’s speech because it may be a long-time before he sees them again. To build consensus he will need to understand the value in protecting the defeated and allowing them to hold onto their dignity – it will go a long way in turning a few of them into supporters.