Who’s gonna run this town?

9 Sep

By Patrick Gossage

The times they are a-changin’.

In Vaughan, that is.

The entry of former longtime councillor and MPP Mario Racco and the expected entry of veteran Member of Parliament, Maurizio Bevilacqua, may significantly change the debate about Vaughan’s political future.  At least in terms of the mayoralty campaign, which really gets underway now.

Racco was widely seen as the only challenger to incumbent Linda Jackson in the lead-up to the Oct. 25 election. That is until Bevilacqua — or at least it’s expected — confirms his candidacy in early September. [Ed. note: Bevilacqua confirmed candidacy Sept. 3].

Racco’s wife Sandra already serves on council, and Racco builds on his six terms as a Vaughan councillor and his relentless platform ideas and pounding of the pavement since declaring in January.

But one of his ideas, which he flew at Pierre Trudeau Park in April, to install  “snitch lines” for citizens to call out breaches of city rules (one for politicians another for city employees) may not be the great change idea he hoped for. Having the Integrity Commissioner dealing with hundreds of potential cranks of the kind that put the mayor’s and councillors’ reputations in endless jeopardy may not appeal to voters weary of municipal scandal.

Even if his transparency, open door, law and order agenda looks like a game changer, Racco’s focus on fixing past problems and his lack of Vaughan building ideas may weaken the undeniable strength of the campaign of a dedicated and unsullied candidate. Give him credit though — he has taken a run at reducing traffic congestion, probably a winner, if a tough goal to achieve.

Bevilacqua has represented Vaughan federally since 1988. In this race he must turn his impressive role as the effective and high profile local MP into proof of his ability to tackle municipal challenges. Indeed he dove in when he could, for instance successfully negotiating the proper planning of the Highway 7 and Weston Road federal lands, resulting in a less dense Blue Willows community.

In my view, Bevilacqua can turn his wider political experience to his advantage. He is anything but the parochial candidate, and if he proposes broader views of the future of Vaughan, he could be seen as a more effective agent of change than Racco.

He’ll have to show that his very worldly wise capabilities and his connections in business (for five years he chaired the Commons Finance Committee), in federal politics (he made a big contribution to the new refugee act with the Conservative Minister Jason Kenney) and in the province could benefit a municipality that certainly could use positive exposure and influence beyond its boundaries.

Watch him out of the gate to see if he has ideas to make Vaughan a great city, about a broader role for the hospital and about contemporary concerns about innovation, research and development and whether Vaughan can become centre for new industry not just old. It will also be interesting to see the kind of coalition he announces to give weight to his campaign. But, his time on the doorsteps is short before the polling date and will put his campaigning energies to the test.

So where does this leave the feisty incumbent, Linda Jackson? She remains the candidate to beat, given her high visibility (underlined by her tireless involvement in the aftermath of the tornado), and the continuing robust growth of Vaughan (over $1 billion in investment) she has overseen during her term.

And she and council have laid a solid planning foundation for the new Vaughan, even dropping its slogan of “The City above Toronto” and adopting a striking and simple new logo.

Whoever pilots Vaughan after October, the times are indeed a changin’ for the fast-growing community. The subway will link the city to the GTA in a way never before dreamt of, and the pedestrian-friendly live/work Vaughan Metropolitan Centre at its terminus will be built. A new hospital will be built. Growth will continue as Vaughan remains a very attractive location for industry and the place to live for new waves of immigrants and others. By 2031, Vaughan is projected to have a population of over 400,000 and 275,000 jobs.

Voters have a choice about who guides and controls these changes — a hard-working reformer in Mario Racco, a well-connected, well-known senior politician in Maurizio Bevilacqua, or a seasoned captain who is stronger from navigating Vaughan’s ship through many storms, Linda Jackson.

But, as Jackson likes to say: don’t forget the mayor only has one vote in council. Municipal politics is the art of consensus building, working together, and the new boys would be wise to take this to heart.

(The above opinion appeared in Vaughan Today’s September edition)

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