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Toronto People: Interview with Josh Matlow, Councillor and Mayoral Candidate 2023 Election

Josh Matlow says he wants to be our arts champion and promote a strong Toronto rather than a strong mayor. In this discussion we talk about the arts, theatre scene, strong mayor powers and the relationship of Toronto and the province.

Interview conducted by Mike Simpson with Josh Matlow, local councillor (Toronto-St Paul’s) and mayoral candidate, on May 1, 2023. The interview took place on the Kay Gardener Belt Line Trail off Yonge St, south of Davisville.

Please visit Josh Matlow’s campaign website for the candidates’s platform.

Credits: Feature image by Mike Simpson aka @tdot_mike / Additional photography by Arpan Parikh aka @archyfy

Mike: Hello, how are you this evening?

Josh: I’m very well. How are you?

Mike: I’m good. We appreciate you coming out to talk to Tdot Shots. We’re an artist group. We’re photographers. And we’re trying to cover city issues. Could you introduce yourself?

Josh: I’d be delighted to. My name is Josh Matlow. I’m currently a city councillor, here in the town of Toronto, and I’m also running for Mayor of Toronto.

Mike: Is this your neighborhood?

Josh: It is, yeah. Welcome to our neighborhood.

Mike: That’s awesome. I always think that you live near Yonge and Eglinton, and we’re not that close.

Josh: Not too far either, yeah.

Mike: What is the boundary of Trinity – Saint Paul’s? (correction: Toronto St. Paul’s ward).

Josh: So it essentially is from the railroad track just north of DuPont where the railway is. Goes all the way up to Eglinton and then a little north of Eglinton up to Broadway and Yonge St. The eastern boundary is essentially Mount Pleasant, although it kind of wiggles down. Through the thing. And then it goes all the way West. All the way to Dufferin in fact. It’s a massive, massive swath of land in the heart of Toronto.

Mike: It’s bigger than I thought.

Josh: Well, Doug Ford had something to do with it. Oh and now I’m intentionally running to represent …

Mike: The whole city.

Josh: From the lake up to Steeles and Etobicoke to Scarborough.

Mike: So, the ward used to be smaller before the merger.

Josh: That’s it’s roughly, yeah.

Mike: Since we’re in arts. We’re primarily about photography, which is really common, which is really, you know, popular these days, but I wanted to ask you more generally about the arts. Is there anything in your ward or across the city that you’re really excited about the potential of improving or? Expanding or any projects locally that that you can talk about.

Josh: I still remember when Rob Ford was mayor and I visited New York and I met with a City Council person, Gale Brewer, at the time in New York City, she represented a part of Manhattan and she said, hey, I know what Toronto is known for. And I thought, oh damn. You’re going to talk about Rob Ford?

Mike: Oh geez.

Josh: And she said you’re known for your arts and culture. That’s what everyone was talking about the time, and I just, I was being triggered and. And I love that, like I was like, yes. OK, let’s talk.

About that because Toronto really is one of the world’s great, global centres for arts and culture. You know one of the top English speaking theatre scenes. A big place to come to shoot films, great industry here. We’ve got a great homegrown industry that you know needs more and more support. Our city that is, you know, per capita putting more and more funds toward arts grants to the council and you know other ways.

Mike: Has that been increasing over the last years?

Josh: It’s been increasing. Yeah, I’d like to see it go even more. I mean, all cities in Canada and the world have done much better job than we have.

Mike: OK, so we have a ways to go, yeah.

Josh: We have a ways to go. And I would also add that you know locally. You know, we worked together to save the Regent theatre, which, you know, was a live theatre on Mount Pleasant, became a cinema for many years. Then you know, story short, owners died left to the kids. They were going to sell it off. Could it become another Shoppers Drug Mart or something? And, you know, fortunately, a Canadian company named Terra Bruce not only took it over, but they’re going to have live productions there again.

Mike: Ohh really?

Josh: And that’s an example of a rare, mid-size theatre that we need in Toronto because it can’t just be sort of, you know, doing it at like a bar. Or Mirvish production right there. There are smaller companies that need space to produce their shows.

Josh: You know, I also believe that we need to take the gig economy workers seriously when I mean, COVID taught us that there are there are you know many people are just struggling to be artists in the city who don’t have reliable sources of income and often are going to have to choose between following their dreams and then you know contribute to our economy as success stories, as many of them can become if they have the ability to make ends meet, to be able to do that rather than go with what plan B might be in life.

Mike: So, developing the arts as an industry where it can support many people, yeah.

Josh: Provide more opportunities. More seed grants, more opportunities, substantive opportunities for artists. To be able to live in this city and not you know and know that you know that whatever they do to actually be able to achieve their dreams is a means to the end rather than sort of being stuck in the means for, you know, for years to come. Sometimes you just need that couple thousand dollars or that free space to produce a show or you know, just that.

Something that gives you that opportunity to then take the next step to be able to follow your dreams. And I remind everybody of that. That arts and culture both feed our souls and contribute to a much greater quality of life for all of us and makes us happier. It contributes to positive mental health, but it also just that very like base level contributes to our economy. And then we, if we have a vibrant arts and cultural scene, we have a vibrant restaurant scene, and it contributes to all the businesses that then can be positively impacted by arts and culture.

Mike: Right, OK, I got you.

Josh: So, all in all, locally and citywide. As Mayor, I’m going to be an arts and culture champion and I look forward to the opportunity to do so if I’m elected.

Mike: I’m excited about that, I think. A lot of people are. We agree that it’s a boost to the city.

Josh: I know you asked me to stay short, you know, with my comments, but there’s so much to add and I just want to add one more thing. OK. You compare Toronto with so many cities around the world. When it comes to busking, when it comes to street-life performances, yeah, we suck.

Like we’re not. We don’t allow for that. We restrict it and I would like to see Toronto streets to become much more animated, vibrant and full of St. Performance.

Mike: Maybe pedestrianized in more places?

More pedestrianized spaces, even at our waterfront, I think that we can encourage more. I’d like to see street performances brought back into the subway. Not only does that contribute to our quality of life and happiness, I think it creates. It’s one way to create a safer environment in our transit system as well. So, arts and culture plays an important role in every facet of our society. I think Toronto has put up too many barriers to allowing for street performances. Across Toronto and I’d like to encourage more.

Mike: That’s a really good notion. Thank you for introducing that.

Mike: I’m going to ask you a harder question. It’s about electoral reform and you know, I don’t expect that someone like yourself would argue necessarily for term limits. I think Mr. Bradford (Brad Braford, also running for mayor) was arguing that two term limits or maybe three was something that, you know, that could work. Maybe that was before he was a counselor. So, I’m going to ask you for a more specifically agreeable variation on that, which is ranked ballots. Do you think that you, whether you’re voted in as a councillor or mayor should have 50% of the vote?

Josh: Yes, I I’ve been a supporter of rank ballots for many years. I’ve been voting consistently to support rank ballots and I’m actually frustrated that the premier isn’t allowing that to happen.

Mike: Is this the obstacle that’s the big obstacle?

Josh: That’s the big option. Well, there were two obstacles. Toronto Council reversed their decision with regard to the request for moving forward with ranked ballots. And then the province put a stop to it. For municipalities, OK, which I. Just think was wrong headed and antidemocratic.

I like ranked ballots because it ensures that those who we elect do have a majority mandate. But it also contributes to more issues, policy-based campaigns that are, you know, more substantive and less based on conflict or gotcha shots, because everyone’s trying to vie to be the second choice of everybody else. So I think it actually contributes to a better politics.

Mike: OK, I think I could see that for sure. On a similar vein. And forgive me, I don’t understand exactly how the strong mayor power is. It’s a reasonably new concept. Let’s just assume that it means that you’ve got leverage over council it does apparently give more power to the mayors. How do you strike that balance? If you’re mayor with the urge to be democratic? And you.

Josh: You don’t strike a balance. Yeah, you disavow those new powers. You request the province for rescind them and you actually move toward a democratic model, you know, no matter what the ends might be, the means don’t justify dismissing the basic tenets of a democracy and the basic tenets of democracy is the majority rules, the minority is heard. Never should we accept a framework, where the minority can overrule the majorities’ viewpoints

Mike: Is it supposed to work in some way that unless there’s a 2/3 in favor of council or something, the mayor does have the ultimate say. Is that the theory?

Josh: Well, the reason is because the term strong mayor powers, yeah, were conflated with each other and everyone just thought there was some sort of superpower that John Tory got from Doug Ford. The reality was there were two separate pieces of legislation. Yeah, one gave the mayor the ability to unilaterally appoint the city manager and city staff. And put forward a budget, etc. Ultra and then the other one was the minority rule powers. So, for that one Bill 39 that I just think is just there’s no precedence in the democratic world. There’s no democratically elected legislative body in the world that rules by the minority. Because by definition, that’s not democracy, right?

Mike: No, no.

Josh: So that’s. That was just a really, like, wrong-headed move by both the mayor and the premier and that should be thrown out.

Mike: OK, so that’s your position.

Josh: And that’s my position. And it was my position when it was done secretly in the 2022 municipal election and it remains my position and it will be my position as mayor, I believe in a strong Toronto rather than a strong mayor.

And the reason why is because under the city. Of Toronto act. Since 2006, the mayor has already had. Sufficient carrots and sticks at their disposal to be able to influence the outcome of most. Votes and. Council David Miller was able to get his agenda through, you know Rob Ford, despite being arguably the least popular member of Council in history, until he went sideways. Was able to get his agenda. Whether when I liked it or not, he was successful in that. And then John Tory got virtually everything passed. So then it begs the question is, you know, why on Earth did we need these strong mayor powers? If you look at the fine print, the only time that the Mayor of Toronto is allowed to use those powers to, like, shove things through, is when they’re in the provincial interest. In other words, the mayor becomes an agent for the Ford government.

That’s not the role of mayor. The role of mayor should be to represent the people of Toronto. No special interest, not Queen’s Park, not anybody else other than the residents of Toronto. So, when it comes to Doug Ford, my position. When and if he does something that genuinely is in the interest of Torontonians as mayor, I will roll up my sleeves and work with him. And if he does something good, I will encourage him. And I will applaud him. When he wants to privatize our waterfront at Ontario Place and work for Therme Spa if he wants to sell off pieces of our greenbelts or otherwise. I’m going to take a stand on behalf of Torontonians.

Mike: OK. I applaud you.

Josh: Thank you.

Mike: I don’t need to even go to the question Toronto versus the province of Ontario because. I think we covered it I think. There is a cynic’s question. Or an ignorant layman’s question. It seems like how can Toronto or the mayor really do battle with the province?

Josh: Because we’re a creature of the province.

Mike: Yeah, like, yeah, it seems tough.

Josh: It is.

Josh: The rules are not set up for strong cities in Canada. Our Constitution doesn’t even mention cities.

Josh: And I’m aware of that. Like I’m aware of the institutional framework for municipalities, we are, we are, we are legally creatures of our respective provinces. Here in Canada, that being said, there are creative ways to push back, OK, and it doesn’t mean that. To say plainly, it shouldn’t be Toronto versus the province.

We need to work with them to get them back into supporting us on social housing, on operating cost for transit, another provincial purview, some responsibility.

Mike: Right. And there’s probably towns in the GTA that agree with Toronto one on some things so.

Josh: Absolutely. We should be working. I mean I I want I want us to be working in partnership with municipalities throughout the GTA, check the green belts like we need those partnerships.

Mike: So it’s not a Toronto thing, it’s a GTA. It’s a southern Ontario.

Josh: It’s not even. About versus, in other words, like I said.

If the province works with us to support Torontonians, then my role as mayor is to work with the province. But we have to be creative and innovative and not just capitulate. When the province does something that is harmful to the people of Toronto. And if that means me going out and knocking at, you know, doors in every conservative held riding to remind those members that I will have a mandate of roughly 3 million people if elected. And then so be it. I will do that. I will do what needs to be done to represent Torontonians. The go along to get along the approach of my predecessor. It didn’t work. The province did not mail out our budget. It did not upload our highways. It did not get back into business of investing in social housing or provide providing a sustainable. Operating cost for transit it left us in a in a shortfall in our budget. So we need to change approaches. It doesn’t mean always fighting. It just means standing our ground.

Our thanks to Josh Matlow for taking the time to meet with us.

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