It's A Wonderful Life

When it comes time to talk about the end, where do I begin? I'll start with a big Thank You to the people of Willowdale for trusting me to represent you for 40 years. I am announcing that I won't seek re-election in October's municipal election. For nine years starting in 1982, I was a school trustee and Chair of the North York Board of Education. Six years on North York Council followed that, and then 25 more on the amalgamated Toronto Council. I didn't plan to stay this long, intending to return to writing. But there always seemed to be projects I needed to finish, or people I didn't want to let down. Perhaps there's a conceit to anyone thinking they're essential to anything. But it was never about having a title. It was more of a George Bailey kind of thing, that being the name of Jim-my Stewart's character in my favourite film, It's a Wonderful Life. I aspired to be like George, bringing people to-gether to encourage a community based on kindness and mutual respect. And then conduct politics the way I thought it needed to be done – by transforming aspiration into action. That this notion now seems terribly quaint is as good an indication as any that it is time for me to be on my way. Because change is both inevitable and often desirable, I have always tried to stay open to new ideas. But when it came to connecting with constituents I often preferred the old ways. At amalgamation, when everyone else moved their main office downtown, I kept mine in North York, where it remains. For years, I refused to give up the old rolodex atop my office desk - my preferred database through which to enlist residents in a community project with the flip of a finger. Politics wasn't so polarized then, and politicians weren't viewed with such suspicion. One year I had close to 400 campaign volunteers; in an-other election I received 85% of the vote. Few felt the need to peg me as left, right or center. I believe in a city that is a collection of strong neighbourhoods, however you want to label that. Some of you may recall that I planned to leave four years ago. I announced my retirement and was already knocking on doors for candidates in the two new Willowdale wards created by Council. Then, months into the 2018 campaign, Doug Ford cut the number of Toronto Councillors in half, making the ward inhospitably large for neighbourhood-oriented candidates suddenly forced to compete with one another for the community vote - likely against a new candidate with name recognition, ready to enter a race I wasn't in. The risk to Willowdale of having a councillor who would quietly advance private interests over public ones suddenly seemed too great. I discussed the situation with the two candidates I had been supporting. One of them agreed with my threat assessment and dropped out to support me re-entering the race; the other continued to run. And so it was that my plan to start the day with a pot of coffee and a keyboard was put on hold. The last four years have been the most difficult of the 40. The pandemic prevented the kind of close contact I wanted with residents, or even with my office staff. And there were two violent assaults at my home in 2019, organized I believe by individuals who saw a financial gain in trying to scare me out of office. The first was an attempted home invasion by a man swinging a pipe. The second came three weeks later when a gunman fired bullets into my home and my car. I kept driving that car - with seven bullet holes in it - to make it clear that Canada can't be-come one of those places where thugs own democracy. And as I prepare to step away, I want to under-line that point. Politics and democracy belong to you. Please look after them.

-John

P.S. I'm still representing you until November 14, and I'll have more to say on lots of things before then

On beautiful Friday evenings in July, there's nowhere I'd rather be than with you in Mel Lastman Square. For more than 10 years, it's been my joy to be there on those nights, satisfying my creative ur