Sarah Thomson


Has Kathleen Wynne given up on transit for Toronto?

A call to all Liberals:

Let’s ignore the fact that all the transit experts and planners have spent the past two decades telling us that the most important subway line Toronto should build is a relief line that runs east to west carrying people to and from the suburbs.

Let’s ignore the fact that the Yonge line has exceeded its capacity and that pushing more people onto it by extending the Danforth subway line is not only a foolish idea, but will overburden the system and cost tax payers more over the long run.

Let’s ignore the fact that we know full well that Mayor Ford is simply pushing the Scarborough subway line because he can’t win the next election unless he wins Scarborough.

We are getting very good at ignoring the experts and the facts so let’s also ignore the fact that Toronto is a much larger economic region and all transit we build should have a broader scope of moving people across the region — which because of Lake Ontario, means that our east and west corridors have higher densities and our transit expansion must consider future growth in Etobicoke and Scarborough.

We should also ignore the facts and cling to past planning doctrine that claimed employment nodes would spread employment evenly across the city, it hasn’t actually panned out that way and many companies are moving back to the core placing more stress on the overcrowded Yonge Street subway line.

Let’s simply follow what Mayor Ford wants to do. He’s popular so he must be right.

If there were ever a time for true leadership on Transit it is now. I beg, I plead, and call on Premier Wynne to start leading. We are liberals because we don’t always do what is popular, but we do what is right.

It’s time to do the right thing when it comes to transit. It is time to listen to the experts, take the politics out of transit and build the subway line that will help move people all around the city. The suburban relief line will divert people from Scarborough and Etobicoke off the Yonge line and allow them to get across the city and to the downtown core quickly and efficiently.

It is the right, reasonable and responsible transit line to build, it’s time to pray that Premier Wynne show what a strong leader she is.

Sarah Thomson: My vision for Toronto

Created to tune of The Mull River Shuffle, by The Rankins 

Picture this, it’s 50 years from now on a crowded city street
the corner of Bay and Bloor,
and it’s Monday morning and you’ve just started a long 8 hour day at the office
and the day, the day is ready to begin.

You’re sitting around the board room table
and everyone’s laughing and joking and telling stories about their weekend;
and your about to start a long strategy session
and you look out the window from the 34th floor, and you see…

Big tree’s and green roofs that seem to create a blanket over the city extending as far as the eye can see.
You see big beautiful buildings, works of architecture so grand that those who walk by seem to raise their heads and stand taller as they pass. You identify the subway stations, each marked by architectural masterpieces designed to reflect different cultures, and the diversity that makes Toronto so vibrant.

You look to the south and see the chain of great buildings that sit above every subway station along the  downtown relief subway line, like charms on a charm bracelet some small, others tall and lean. You think about how each one of them has mixed use and mixed income, and about the legislation brought in decades ago that required 10% affordable housing in every new building across the city.  Some of the buildings  have seniors centres and child care facilities mixed in as well, while still others have offices, museums, art galleries, medical clinics and event space.  You look south to the lake and notice the swath of gardens and natural parks and you think about the highway in a tunnel far below them.
You remember the old pictures you’ve seen of ugly strip of concrete holding a highway and a road below it like a wall that blocked people from the waterfront. You see a flock of birds circling the naturalized park land at mouth of the Don river to the east. You remember the old photo’s with telephone poles and hydro wires all long gone, buried when the city decided to take itself seriously.

You’re glad the the old buildings and factories were preserved and restored and see traces of their design in some of the new architecture. You think about the energy that took over Toronto in  the early part of the century when the subway system grew and the people decided to aim for the best and invest all they had into the city.   The traffic on the streets below is light, but the sidewalks are filled with people and activity. Most people live close to their jobs and use the subway to get around.

You wonder what the city might be like if your grandparents hadn’t invested their tax dollars in the early 20s and 30s. The city is known to be one of the leading arts and education centres in North America. You think of slum cities Detroit, Cincinnatti and Baltimore filled with crime, poverty and violence where corruption and lack of investment destroyed the potential they once had. The boardroom door shuts and you are brought back to 2063 and your meeting is about to begin.- The sun glints off the lake and you realize Toronto is still a city of potential.


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Follow Sarah Thomson on Twitter at @ThomsonTO.

The Circle of Life

In memory of Grant Whatmough May 24, 1921 – Sept. 14, 1999

Thirteen years have passed since my father died and I remember all he gave me — the innocence of childhood, the safety of it, and the desire to live life as fully as possible.

When I was a girl I would run through the fields with my arms outstretched like wings. The tall grass scratched at my bare legs, almost reaching my arms, but it offered a soft cushion with every fall and a great place to hide from my twin brother. I used to dream of flying. Of swooping over the fields like the barn swallows. I used to climb trees and watch the tall grass roll in the wind, like waves.

One of my favourite songs is Home by Nathan Wiley. The first line goes “When I was a boy I had everything, I had silver and gold.” The song evokes images of his past, falling asleep in the back seat of the car, dreaming of ships he will sail. It reminds me of what home felt like to me as a child — a safe place to think, dream, learn, and set out from. That childhood innocence I once had is something I can only go back to in my dreams, a place where responsibility and worry don’t enter.

Tonight, as I type away at my desk I remember the evenings I had as a child. There were times when my parents had company and I would sneak out of my bed to listen to them talk. They spoke about philosophy, art, politics, love, and life. I remember wishing I would grow up faster so that I could understand more about what they discussed. Life seemed to be just out of reach.

Many of my childhood memories are beautiful and sometimes I wonder if my senses were more finely tuned then. I remember being in bed with my window open and trying to pick out a single voice in a chorus of frogs (spring peepers) that filled the night air. Their voices seemed to create a magical symphony.

I remember running along paths in the dark with nothing but a sparkler to light our way and reaching the crest of a hill to turn and see the sparks from a huge bonfire we had spent months preparing rise until they merged with the stars in the sky above.

I remember evenings when my parents sat out on the lawn to watch the sun set and I, in turn, watched them from my bedroom window. They held hands and sat out there well after the light faded and darkness filled the night with stars.

I still remember my mother waking me in the middle of the night to go for a skate on an ice rink we had flooded earlier in the day. The smoothness of the ice and the stillness of the night with a dog barking from miles away. The star-filled sky stretched over the fields, enveloping them in its silence. I glided over the ice, floating, flying above and through the night, grounded completely in it. The beauty in that moment struck me like never before, but as soon as I took notice it was gone.

My twin brother and I swam in a neighbour’s pond. We explored the nearby swamp and choked on cigarettes made from dried leaves and weeds. We borrowed horses from the neighbouring church camp, snuck into their gospel hall and sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight over their public address system. We flour-bombed their prayer wagon. We grew. I remember the fear and exhilaration that came from swaying in the upper branches of a tall tree on the crest of a hill, as an August thunderstorm rolled, clashing and bursting over the fields, toward us.

The innocence of my childhood left long ago. I know about loss and the feeling of emptiness in the pit of your stomach that has a way of flowing over you, becoming part of you.  I know that the tears of sorrow sting like no other tears. I know that the emptiness stays in you, like a shadow.  I know that happiness can come and go. This knowledge is something I’d never experienced as a child; its price was my innocence. I remember how much I craved being older, I wanted to be free to do anything and to learn as much as I could. And you know, I still crave learning despite the cost.

My childhood home was my Eden. I will never go back because I would never voluntarily give up the knowledge I have gained. But, if I live long enough, my knowledge and my memories might slowly begin to melt away and someday I may indeed regain the innocence I’ve lost. Life is, if you live long enough, one big circle

An ode to librarians

This article was originally published in the summer of 2012.

From the beginning of recorded time, librarians have stored and protected knowledge to stave off the plague of ignorance that, like other plagues, doesn’t distinguish between poverty and opulence. I’ve just finished reading Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. The lead character struggles to understand the world in a time when books and ideas are thwarted by religious belief and superstition. It is a terrific novel about life during the black plague and has me thinking about the amount of knowledge our librarians have collected over the generations and how important this knowledge is to understanding the world.

My family and I are currently visiting Costa Rica where the division between the wealthy and the poor is extreme.  The house we have rented is high up on a mountainside (Del Congo de Uvita) and it looks out over the coastal town of Uvita. The town has a small one-room open-air school; its windows lack glass and the shelves are empty of books. There isn’t a library in the town, but further north Librarians without Borders built an elementary school library in El Hum. Things move much slower here; roads are rough, most of them are unpaved, and in some places knowledge and the advancement it brings haven’t taken hold – there are internet towers and cell phones almost everywhere, but even this technology hasn’t had a huge impact on daily lives in most of the coastal towns.

While there are libraries here in Costa Rica, they are nothing like the public library system we have in Toronto, which has had much more investment, both financially and socially.  The Toronto Public Library system grew out of a campaign by city alderman John Hallam back in the late 1800s. It has become the largest public library system in Canada and has higher circulation per capita than any other public library system in the world.

But as Toronto’s city government reviews all areas to cut spending, this precious and priceless gem of a system could get whittled away by budget cuts so that its true value – not only the books, data, and information, but also the hundreds of librarians that protect and pass on the knowledge we’ve accumulated  – disappears. Too many people now mistake data for knowledge and wrongly assume that the internet can provide all the necessary information society needs. But it is the desire to further ourselves through literacy, and understanding, that our librarians, our custodians over knowledge, work to nurture and feed.

When I ran for mayor of Toronto, I learned quickly that the opposition hires fake writers to post bogus “articles” made to discredit their competition. The internet allows almost anyone to pose as a “journalist,” or to create fake “news” sites that distort the truth. One site went so far as to falesely report that I had suggested privatizing libraries – which goes against my core belief that having a strong public library system is essential to protecting knowledge from being distorted by private enterprise. And it is precisely because the internet enables both truth and misinformation to co-exist that the need to maintain a strong library system is so vitally important to our city.

Libraries must continue to collect and protect knowledge, and, as a society entering the internet age, it is essential that we continue to fund them.  Toronto’s public library system is one of the most important long-term investments our city can make. And it is our librarians who serve as custodians to protect our history and inform our aspirations.



Follow Sarah on Twitter at @ThomsonTO.

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The Democratic process is fundamental

Today, Toronto City Council has convened to decide on having a by-election or appointing someone to act as councillor in Ward 3 until the 2014 election.

For the first time in almost 4 years I have to agree with the Fords on the importance of having a by-election despite its $200,000+ cost estimate.

The importance of having a truly democratic process in place is fundamental. By appointing someone council will give them the unfair advantage of incumbency (the incumbent has both resources and status to quietly campaign prior to an election).  If council is going to appoint they must appoint someone who would not run in that ward — but it’s virtually impossible to ensure this legally.

With over a year until the next election prior precedent has called for a by-election to ensure that the people get the representative they want.

Although I have offered to fill the seat, it is if, and only if, council decides to appoint someone. I would not seek re-election in the riding although I may seek it elsewhere and want to be very clear of this. I also want to emphasize that a by-election is the only truly democratic way to handle the issue of filling the seat in Ward 3.  I encourage council to support a by-election there.

Toronto police officer charged with murder in the shooting of Sammy Yatim

Tragic. That sums up everything to do with an 18 year old boy bing shot and tasered  after he brandished a knife. The director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that probes civilian deaths that involve police officers, issued a press release earlier this morning.

Ian Scott, SIU director “has reasonable grounds to believe that a Toronto Police Service officer committed a criminal offence in relations to the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Adib Yatim in July of 2013,” said the press release.

Sammy Yatim was shot nine times by police while on board the westbound Dundas  streetcar near Trinity Bellwoods Park just after midnight on July 27.

Constable James Forcillo was the lone subject of the SIU investigation.

This is a tragedy not only for the friends and family of Sammy Yatim, but also for those of the constable. An incident like this must bring change to the way officers are trained and overseen at each and every crime scene

Voters fear Liberal bureaucracy is too powerful

Provincial Liberal strategists are blaming their losses in the August 1st byelection on the gas plant scandal, and while this is a big negative issue it’s important to understand what people are truly reacting to.

I should disclose that I am am a past candidate for the Liberals in the 2011 election. So I come at this with a bit of experience and a little insight into how things run within the party.

My advice to Premier Wynne is to make sure that she addresses the true issue around the gas plant scandal: it isn’t just about what was done but more about who did it.  The public is upset because the Liberal election campaign team seemed to have more control than those who were elected.  That the campaign staff had enough power to stop the gas plants is what truly upsets people. The feeling on the street is that the bureaucracy has become far too powerful and devious.  That is the true issue the Premier has to deal with and voters will be watching closely to see how she handles it.

Replacing staff is a good first step but if the Premier doesn’t curtail their power it will amount to very little.  Liberals lost three of their held ridings because the candidates they put into those ridings lacked the authenticity needed to overcome the devious image the gas plant scandal has cast over the Liberals.

As things currently stand the Premiers campaign staff are selecting too many of the candidates they want. This is a huge mistake and one that will have big consequences in the next election.

Allowing campaign team staff to have control over the elected politicians, over government policy, and extending it to choosing the new candidates gives them far too much power and influence not only over the new candidates,  but also over MPPs who need their help to get re-elected. It shows how strong the bureaucracy has become.

You wouldn’t run a company and put your staff in charge of selecting their supervisor or managers and as the leader of the Liberal party the Premier should not be allowing her staff to hand pick the candidates they want. Not only is it bad for government but it will also hurt her chances of winning.

Why? Because staff will pick people most likely to do their bidding, to cover up their mistakes, and to bend to their will. This means that a whole group of excellent politicians, will not have an opportunity to run.

Gone are the vocal candidates, and anyone who would stand up to the staff.

Gone are the community activists who don’t always agree with the a policy position and drive the party to change – keeping the party relevant to voters.

Gone are the candidates who worried openly that the campaign team was getting too powerful.

When the Liberal campaign staff control the candidate selection process it becomes insular – they get other staff or past staff in as candidates, or bureaucrats they know will do as they are told. But in doing so they risk voter support – as the past byelection demonstrated.

For example, take the byelection in London West – a riding that has been held by Liberals for a decade and where Ken Coran, former head of the Teachers Union, was announced as the candidate with all other possibles shunned. Coran the man who took credit for pushing the Liberals out in the Kitchener byelection in 2012. Among staff he was seen as the man who beat them, and he was treated with awe and respect. Among Liberals he was seen as a big gun for the NDP – a wolf the farmer thought a dog and mistakenly put in to guard the hens. Liberal voters refused to come out and vote for him. He lost by a whopping 9,637 votes to the NDP and even trailed the Conservatives by 6,256 votes

Or look at Windsor-Tecumseh riding which has been held by the Liberals since 1995. Liberal candidate Jeewan Gill won a nomination, but his experience working as special assistant to a former MP hurt him on election day. Voters saw Mr Gill’s background and connected him — albeit in error — to those devious election staff behind the Gas Plant scandal. The NDP had a landslide win with Percy Hatfield taking the seat away from Liberals easily.

In the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore – which has been liberal for a decade  – the campaign team hand-picked their candidate dissuading all others. But they picked Councillor Peter Milzcyn a candidate who was viewed by most voters in the community as being a Conservative and served on Rob Ford’s executive. The general public didn’t look at his history as a Liberal Party riding president, it’s only party insiders who noted that but less active Liberals didn’t trust him and stayed home on election day.

The role of the politician is to represent what voters want. But when party staff show up as political candidates voters worry that their loyalty will be to the party bureaucracy first and because of the gas plant scandal, the next election campaign is sure to focus on the issue of Liberal Campaign staff having too much power.  If it does any candidate who is or was a political staffer will have a tough time winning.

Premier Wynne needs to prove to voters that she is strong enough to curtail the bureaucracy, to take control away from her staff and put it back into the hands of the elected officials.

I recommend three actions to the Premier:

First — set up a campaign selection committee of politicians who can and will stand up to the campaign team and work to dissuade staff or former staff from running as candidates.

Second — have the candidate selection committee review the candidates her staff have already put in place. There are ridings that now have current or former Queens Park staff as candidates, that have had staff pack the nomination meetings in order to get their guy in. As things now stand they are very likely to lose those ridings for the same reason they lost so many in the byelections … voters will see staff or former staff as the bureaucracy weaseling in to gain even more power. Staff should be encouraged not to be involved in any way in the nominations.  I have met many of these “staff” candidates and know them to be good solid people —  but unfortunately the trust voters have in Queens Park staff or former staff or anyone tied to the bureaucracy is at an all-time low.

Third — have the candidate selection committee entice strong active community advocates to run for them. They need to select people who aren’t afraid to say what they think, who have name recognition and are active in their communities. Voters need to trust that their candidate will not only represent their issues, but stand up to the powerful bureaucracy that a decade of government has enabled.