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Toronto through the eyes of Mike Layton

Posted by Mariam Matti / June 3, 2012

Mike Layton TorontoMike Layton, like many Toronto city councillors, runs on a busy schedule. Serving as the councillor of Ward 19 since 2010, he doesn't shy away from the fact that his politics are similar to his late father's, but he's proven through media scrums and council meetings that he also has a distinct set of skills to bring to the table that sets him apart from his lineage.

I caught up with Layton to get his thoughts on public transit, cycling infrastructure and the nature of his relationship with Rob Ford.

What is an average day like for you?

Most days I start my meetings around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., either in the ward or in my office. I normally have the opportunity before or after those meetings to touch base with my executive assistant about anything pressing for the day. We have a multitude of whiteboards in the office to keep track of priorities and dates. I try and do the day in one hour chunks, so that leaves me with a half an hour to actually put into action anything that happened at the meeting.

I normally have a little bit of time around lunch to reserve for the gym. After that I have a bite to eat at my desk while responding to phone calls. Typically the afternoon goes the same as my morning. My day is normally free between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., and around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. a community meeting starts.

That's a typical day without a council meeting. If there's a council meeting, I'm obviously in the council chamber on the computer either researching what questions I'm going to ask or what I'm going to say or trying to draft motions.

You've lived in Toronto your whole life. What do you think has changed for the better about the city over the last 10 years?

It seems like the city has become more integrated rather than a collection of distinct communities. Our communities are really starting to come together. There's a lot more sharing of our common culture going on in Toronto. You see that when you're out at the Korean Dano Spring Festival in Christie Pits. You see it in the diversity of the crowd. It's not only the Korean families celebrating springtime; it's families from every background. It's very reflective of Toronto's character, and I think that has just developed over time. It's a common and shared understanding and a desire to look beyond our individual cultures. That's something I don't remember when growing up.

What remains Toronto's worst quality?

Like our wider society, while people are sharing in each other's culture more and more, there's been a distinct tendency — particularly in the past couple of years — for people to looking out for themselves. We hear that in the political jargon, all the way from the rhetoric of the federal government to the so-called gravy train.

The idea that paying taxes is a "bad thing" — and don't get me wrong, none of us like paying our taxes — but the things they give us are incredibly good things for the most part. The central function of government is that it serves, and much of that, unfortunately, has been eroded away. We collect taxes to make society work. We collect taxes to help create wealth for businesses. Businesses wouldn't function on their own. It just doesn't work that way.

It ultimately gets back to the idea that individuals are all in it for themselves. I think it's partly false...because when you start having a dialogue with people about what they want society to be, they instinctively go the opposite way. They want a caring and nurturing society. But the dialogue we get, politically, it's distinctively the opposite. It's don't trust the government.

And that's frustrating because when you are trying to build a city that is a caring city, one that looks out for all its citizens, it's increasingly difficult when you are up against the false idea that private business does it better.

How do you over come that challenge?

I think it has to do with dialogue and conversation, rather than catchphrases and policies made up on the back of the napkin. Sure, good policies can start on the back of a napkin, but it shouldn't be introduced that way. It should start as an idea. It needs to start as a dialogue about what type of city we want to live in.

Mike Layton TorontoHow do you get around the city?

I cycle, almost exclusively. I take the streetcar when it is rainy or snowy. I don't trust other drivers on the road.

Do you think Toronto is a safe place to commute on your bicycle?

I grew up cycling on city streets...since I was 11 years old. There's plenty more bike lanes now than there was then.

But, there are a lot of improvements we can make. I'm fortunate enough that I can ride a bike lane almost all the way to work. I think once they finish the Bay lane, I will have a bike lane for all but two blocks on my way to work.

Most of what I think needs to happen is education about it. I think drivers and cyclists need to find a new way of sharing the road in which both groups actually follow the rules. I think it's building that common understanding that's going to be the long term solution because we are never going to get bike infrastructure on every road.

We have a long way to go, but I feel pretty comfortable out there riding. My partner just started riding on a daily basis, and she feels so much more comfortable in a bike lane. That painted line just gives her a good feeling of security, and I think that opened my mind to the fact that not as many people will weave and dodge through traffic like I will in the curb lane because I'm comfortable and understand the rules of the road and my rights as a cyclist. So I'm conscious of the fact that in order for us to get more cyclists on the road, we do need more infrastructure.

Do you think there's need for a Downtown Relief Line? Is the city moving in the right direction as far as transit goes?

Well, now we are. We certainly weren't, and we lost a year in planning which is unfortunate. I think a Downtown Relief Line has been needed for the past 20 years. If you look at the density, and take that into account, that's the area that warrants a subway. Having said that, it would be pretty expensive to put one in.

All of us would love subways, and I think eventually the relief line will be a reality, but until then, we have some other options.

One idea proposed most recently is using the above rail tracks that we have in the east end...and we also have that option in the West end. We could use the ARL as a connecter from Union to City Place to Liberty Village to Roncesvalles. We could essentially use that as a dedicated off-road train, which sounds a lot like a subway to me except for the underground portion. But, remember, our existing subway comes above ground on both lines and stays above ground for a good portion.

There are some other options there that are more realistic in the short term for the Downtown Relief Line, and that's why we're calling on the provincial government. We're going to spend the next three years building the ARL — wouldn't it be nice if you threw a couple of platforms on and let it serve the communities that those trains are going through?

What's one yearly Toronto event that you can't miss?

My longest standing tradition is the Labour parade. Is it terribly exciting? No. Is it hot and a long walk? Yes. But it's just a tradition that I've marched in that parade since I was eight years old.

[Long pause]

You know what? It's Pride. I would miss the Labour Day parade, but I wouldn't miss Pride for a good cottage weekend.

I went away last year for Pride Week and I drove back the morning of the parade. I left my partner and all my friends up there because I don't miss Pride, and I haven't yet.

I started going not because of my dad but because a friend of mine in university. So I spent the first couple of years as volunteer raising money for the parade. Then I realized it's way more fun in the parade even though you have a longer line up for the beer tent.

There is something about the energy in the city.

What would you say to those less reluctant to go?

Loosen up. It's a lot of fun.

I think that this exemplifies what the feeling is at Pride. It's about love. At the PFLAG event, I think this showed, because Rob Ford only got cheers. There were smiles all around, and there was a love shown that Pride will show you as well. If you don't support the community, maybe you shouldn't be there. But if you do, it's a lot of fun.

This year I'm up at the cottage too, and I'm driving back down for it. It's just that critical for me to be there. And, of course, it was a tradition with my dad. In the last decade, we've probably walked in it together eight or nine times.

Here's an experience I remember. In a previous parade, when we made the last turn on Gerrard, there was this person there. This was when Jack was NDP leader, and someone had a sign up that said "Kiss Me Jack," and it was, naturally, a guy. And my dad, with all the media around, ran up and gave this guy a kiss on the lips. That much love was in the air that you could do that as a heterosexual guy. It gave that much more love all around to do that.

Mike LaytonWhat can be improved as far as Toronto's green initiatives go?

We're still having difficulties with rolling out our diversion for our waste, which is unfortunate because it will cost us a lot in the end.

I think our problem globally is climate change. I think we're doing more than some cities with our green development standards and there are some good programs from the Toronto atmospheric fund that my dad helped to start.

The problem is that those programs are starting to come into question from the current administration even though they have proven returns financially for the city. This idea that the government shouldn't be in the business of promoting efficiency is starting to come out.

The feds have now canceled their eco energy homes program, which also means the province canceled it. So we are now working on a piece of policy that is similar to one in the U.S. It involves us giving home energy retrofit loans that the city facilitates. There's zero cost to the city and the tax payer, but massive savings can be accrued by the home owner. It creates thousands of jobs too.

You started your career as one of the youngest councilors. What was the biggest challenge you faced?

The biggest one was to differentiate myself from my father and stepmother.

Before I was a city councillor, I was an environmental activist. Before that I was a political activist, and before that I was getting my masters in urban planning. I spent a good number of years doing political work, but all the while being a community organizer, so my primary role was to bring stakeholders and different communities together to get them all working towards the same goal. That was and still is the role of good city council. They act as a catalyst.

So that's what is was from door number one that I had to knock on. And then, of course, when introducing myself, I'd always get the — "oh, you're Jack's son."

While I don't shy away from the fact that my politics are very similar to my father's, I bring something else to the table. It's an enthusiasm and experience through being that catalyst and that community organizer. Building that trust is difficult, as it is for most candidates. It's extremely difficult to get literature in everyone's hand, and so every conversation starts with this aspect of who I am.

In addition to the challenge of getting away from the initial question of "so, you are Jack's son?" — or more increasingly, Olivia's step son — my focus is on talking about the community we want to build and how can I be helpful in accomplishing that.

If you were mayor of Toronto tomorrow, what is the first policy decision you'd make?

We need to seriously look at revenue sources in our city. We need to provide more equity and fairness in how we raise our revenues. Not having a mechanism for raising funds from the usage of single passenger automobiles is a problem. We collect a significant amount of revenue from transit users, who also pay taxes. We don't from people in cars.

I am not convinced that just having a fee to get your license plate in the city is the most equitable way of doing it.

With more revenue tools, we could get more transit built. It would help the productivity of the city by lessening gridlock and it would make the city a more attractive place to live. It would attract more tourists to Toronto, which again would increase revenue.

Can you describe your relationship with Rob Ford

I think it's cordial, particularly, when it's just he and I. He was very generous with his praise of my father after his passing. He's always interested in how things are going personally. We can have those conversations privately in the halls.

We've collaborated on a couple of small pieces. There is some common ground that we can work together on, but there are a significant number of issues that we don't see eye to eye on. Although there seems to be some fireworks in the chamber, that doesn't carry over into the hallways. We have to work together for the next two years regardless of what happens. I think the idea is that you work together where you can, and where you disagree, you try to leave it upstairs in the chamber. That doesn't mean I'm not trying to organize a direct opposition to some of his policies. I will continue to do so, but it's not a personal thing.

My politics are based on a different set of values then his are.

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:

Where do you get your caffeine fix? I drink tea

Favourite place in the city for inspiration? The north shore Toronto Island. It has something to do with my childhood. The emotional connection puts me in a really good place.

Favourite Toronto building/landmark? The gates of Trinity Bellwoods park.

Favourite Subway station? Bathurst... It's the smell of the bakery. I grew up one block over, so it was my station. But it's really that bakery smell. I could be blindfolded and I would know exactly where I was.

Favourite restaurant? Banjara on Bloor. Best Indian place in the city. I've had community meetings there. I could eat it every single day. The menu and atmosphere are great.

Favourite street/trail to ride your bike? The Martin Goodman trail along the waterfront...it's gorgeous.

Discussion

23 Comments

W. K. Lis / June 3, 2012 at 09:09 am
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At least Mike actually learned from his father, Jack. Jack Layton may have taught Rob Ford the ins and outs of city hall, but Rob didn't learn much.
Qu / June 3, 2012 at 09:23 am
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Who doesn't love unions!
Christopher / June 3, 2012 at 10:02 am
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He needs to follow the family tradition and grow a mustache.
missedthebus / June 3, 2012 at 11:22 am
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He's my city councillor. I was skeptical at first, but I'm very satisfied. He's doing a good job.
Steve / June 3, 2012 at 11:50 am
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When's "Toronto through the eyes of Giorgio Mammoliti" coming?
dee / June 3, 2012 at 11:55 am
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He's my councillor too!! I think he's great: very in-touch with the various neighbourhoods that make up ward 19. He sends us monthly emails on community events and concerns, which i really appreciate - I just moved to this area a few months ago and he's been a big part of why i feel so connected to my new neighbourhood!!
jake / June 3, 2012 at 01:18 pm
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As I read this, I was quite surprised at his responses...alot less predictable than I thought and he really articulated himself well. He came across as balanced, very informed, and sincere in regards to the city and its issues. My general impression has been changed!

Glad to see that we do have some bright spots in city hall.
McRib / June 3, 2012 at 01:47 pm
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ward 19 is the place to be
jameson / June 3, 2012 at 03:14 pm
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Pretty boring interview.

His father raised hell. He should be doing the same.
Ratpick replying to a comment from jameson / June 3, 2012 at 04:01 pm
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Agree. We should all be clones of our parents.
jameson replying to a comment from Ratpick / June 3, 2012 at 04:58 pm
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You sure are an idiot.
Ted / June 3, 2012 at 08:37 pm
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"We need to seriously look at revenue sources in our city."

Just say that you want to raise taxes, have some guts and be honest for once.

More proof that communism is an inherited defect.
Ratpick replying to a comment from jameson / June 3, 2012 at 08:45 pm
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Did misunderstand your original comment "his father raised hell .. he should be doing the same"? Care to elaborate?

Let's hear it.



Chris / June 3, 2012 at 08:55 pm
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Great interview - although I'm not a supporter of the NDP I have to say I have a great deal of respect for Mike and his platform after reading this.
Ted replying to a comment from Ratpick / June 3, 2012 at 10:06 pm
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I think he means Jack got carried away in a massage parlor a time or two...
Bruce replying to a comment from Ted / June 5, 2012 at 09:57 pm
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You equate looking at revenue sources to simply raising taxes which is therefore proof that communism is inherited.

First could you cite your source that Jack Layton was communist? Just Curious.

Second do you consider paying for electricity, gas or groceries a tax? I'm going to say probably not. So how is paying for a permit to park on a city street, play on a city field or have your garbage picked up, other than a government instead of a private corporation is billing you, any different?

I have hate paying tax on stuff. Sales taxes are the worst we are paying the government the privilege to purchase something.

Alternate revenue source could be anything from selling more advertising on video screens or poster boards in community centres to renting out unused office space or meeting rooms. Yes it could be taxes, it could be things such as the vehicle registration tax which unfairly targeted owners of vehicles who reside in the city of Toronto. It could also be a road toll on the gardiner and dvp which then targets only those who use the road regardless of where they live.

Nobody wants to pay more, but the fact of the matter is that stuff costs more every year to maintain, never mind build new. I know I am not going to change your mind on this topic any more than I am going to change a person on the left that labour unions are part of the problem not the solution to the cities financial woes.
Ted replying to a comment from Bruce / June 6, 2012 at 09:24 pm
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I can see your point; taxes may be different than revenue streams that take advantage of unexploited opportunities.

For example, if it was possible to pay a small fee to piss all over the Jack Layton statue that the Canadian Federation of Labor is erecting at the ferry terminal named in his honor, then I would certainly consider taking advantage of that opportunity to contribute to the city's revenue stream (so to speak).

Is that what you had in mind?
Bruce replying to a comment from Ted / June 7, 2012 at 12:22 am
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What ever turns your crank. If you would pay money to do that, then lets start selling tickets!
james / June 7, 2012 at 08:45 pm
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'Revenue Sources'. The Government has only ONE means of raising revenue: TAXATION. There are a few other bits and pieces, but that is it. IF YOU DON'T GRASP THIS, YOU DON'T GRASP REALITY.

'Jack Layton = Communist'. Jack's entire life was spent trying to raise taxes on one group of people to pay for the services of others. Layton was a Marxist in every sense of the word, except that he was religious and not an Atheist.

Toronto is a highly functional city, but also the most pathetic, boring cultureless city on the planet.

Multiculturalism does not exist. Multiculturalism simply means a group of people politely sharing the same space going about their businesses, 'existing', not 'flourishing'.


sarah / June 7, 2012 at 08:47 pm
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Typical bureaucrat, has 'meetings' all day, yet accomplishes nothing.

I have no doubt he's a nice, well meaning guy ... but anyone could do his job. Show up, listen, be nice, don't do anything, go home. Everyone is happy. Raise more taxes, hire more people to do nothing.
george sawision / June 9, 2012 at 11:12 pm
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fun article and "comfortable" one for mike.Being a councilor is a difficult job at any time however ward 19 has had many difficulties relating to bike paths,condominium development and Liberty village transit issues.I am glad that mike layton likes my idea of using the rail lands to provide a subway system.I know that Jack and Mike like many of the solutions I have outlined for our area and share in his frustration in finding it impossible to implement.I congratulate him for voting for every condo development in our ward and ensuring that other major buildings like kromer development will find success as well.It will be interesting how Mike faces the new casino at exhibition place. His attacks on rob ford are personal and have all the air of a NDP member fighting a conservative mayor.That animosity has to stop, there is no room at city hall for political party infights.
george sawision replying to a comment from sarah / June 11, 2012 at 08:48 pm
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joe pantalone did it for years with no complaints at all, mike is just continuing what our ward voted for.
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