Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood.


I have to admit, right now I'm jealous of Toronto. Have a look on my blogroll and you'll see that three of my Toronto bloggers are covering the city's mayoralty election very closely. Andrew Spicer, originally a neutral observer, got so excited by David Miller's campaign that he joined up, and is now reporting from the trenches. The Armchair Garbageman is also giving us good coverage and Warren Kinsella, that Liberal bulldog, appears to have cashed his cheque from the McGuinty campaign and immediately signed on as mayoralty candidate John Tory's communications adviser.

I think it is safe to say that we will never, ever, have anyone like Warren Kinsella writing speeches for mayoralty candidates in Waterloo Region. I think it is safe to say that Kitchener's mayoralty debates will never, ever, be carried on any station more prestigious than Community Cable 20. The upcoming election here is boring, and I don't even know the name of the Kitchener mayor's (Carl Zehr) opponent.

Part of the excitement around Toronto's election is that it is a real horse race. With Mel Lastman out of the picture, a number of qualified candidates have stepped forward. Moreover, Toronto is having this election while at a crossroads. The future of the waterfront, the future funding of the TTC, the future of urban design in the city, all have to be addressed by the next council, so this election is especially important, and all about vision.

It helps that any of the three main candidates (John Tory, David Miller and Barbara Hall) represent a substantial improvement on the last council (the most dysfunctional in Toronto's history since Mayor MacKenzie decided to settle his differences with the provincial government through force of arms), so that this election is one with some hope attached to it... but also some fear.

In contrast, Kitchener has had its major issue elections. In the mid 90s, Kitchener's downtown was in the midst of a 30-year-long descent into urban decay, Waterloo Region had two separate transit agencies that did not link up with each other, and there were calls to dismember the regional government back into its insular member cities. Our politicians weren't very responsive, in my opinion; Mayor Dom Cardillo, an affable man, didn't have the vision to take the city forward, and after he retired, he was replaced by the more visionary Richard Christie, who let the prestige of being mayor of a city of 150,000 go to his head a bit (commissioning regal mayoralty robes to meet up with a descendant of Lord Kitchener, the city's namesake, for instance).

But in the 1994 and 1997 elections, other councillors won seats under campaigns to improve the city in general and the downtown in particular. Upon election, these councillors rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Everything was capped off with the election of Carl Zehr as Kitchener's mayor, a man with the visionary zeal of Richard Christie and the affability of Dom Cardillo. The problems of the day were (finally) seriously addressed.

Waterloo Region now functions well as a single, diverse entity, in full control of its urban boundary. Kitchener's downtown has received ongoing attention and is rising from the dead. The region now has one transit system instead of two, and is committed to increasing service. We are now looking forward to the construction of our first LRT.

Although controversies remain (Waterloo's own MFP scandal, for instance), we are looking forward to a brighter future of challenges met and overcome. The politicians we elect this time have only to pledge not to screw things up. Many of the experienced politicians aren't being seriously challenged. Mayor Zehr is running almost unopposed and the job could well be his as long as he wants it. The Region of Waterloo may have become the new "City that Works", but voting not to rock the boat is a lot less interesting than voting how to bail that boat out.

So, my jealousy of Toronto is a jealousy over the fact that Toronto has choices to make, with substantial rewards if they choose right, and substantial penalties if they choose wrong. It is a jealousy over finding myself well away from the trenches, away from where the action is, away from where there is real risk to a city's future. I'd probably feel much differently about everything if I were just a hundred kilometres down the road...

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