You’d think the mayor with the toughest job in the GTA would be John Tory. He has to deal with a fractious, 45-member council, 2.7 million constituents, and a provincial government that occasionally overturns decisions he’s spent months on.
But a look across all the many GTA municipalities has led me to a different conclusion: no one has a more bruising and frustrating mayoralty right now than the chief magistrate of Brampton, Linda Jeffrey.
Jeffrey spent a dozen years as a Brampton city councillor, and more than a decade at Queen’s Park, where she was a cabinet minister in Dalton McGuinty’s government. She then “went home” and ran for the mayor’s job in 2014, winning in a landslide.
Her homecoming would be anything but routine. She quickly put council on notice that she planned to call in a former provincial auditor to review Brampton’s finances, and the Ontario ombudsman to investigate possible instances of corruption.
But the hangover of cronyism and infighting lingers: Jeffrey has not been able to fix the dysfunction that for years has plagued Brampton city council. Certain parts of her agenda have proven intractable, the most high profile being the light rail transit line. The province was willing to fund 100 per cent of the construction costs to have the LRT travel north through Mississauga into Brampton. But the majority on council disagreed with the proposed route and rejected the plan, so the province pulled the plug on the Brampton segment entirely.
“The LRT is not dead,” Jeffrey insisted to me on a recent phone call. “It’s dead for this term and there’s nothing in the works right now. But I’m running again [in 2018] because I’ve discovered I can’t get everything done in one term.”
Jeffrey’s political adversaries have now started a group called Citizens for a Better Brampton. One of her 2014 mayoral opponents, John Sanderson, is advising the group. Like the majority of council, they are against Jeffrey’s proposed LRT route. “We’re opposed to the Main Street surface route for the LRT because it will go right through our historic area,” Sanderson told me recently in a meeting.
“They build and run transit through historic areas all over the world,” the mayor countered. “[CFBB] just wants Brampton left alone, the way it was. I let evidence drive my decisions, and the evidence says the shortest, most logical route is a straight line between two GO stations.”
The mayor and Sanderson also disagree on where Ryerson University’s new satellite campus should go. Ultimately the university will choose the location, but the mayor (and all of council, and the CFBB) wants the new campus downtown, near existing transit and library services. “That’s the best place for the best student experience,” Jeffrey said.
Sanderson prefers three other sites that have more space for new amenities and student housing.
He also takes issue with how the mayor is handling the proposed high-speed railway between Toronto and Waterloo. At the moment, there are no plans to include a station in Brampton. (Malton would be the closest.) “We don’t have a mayor that’s fighting for a station for Brampton,” Sanderson said.
Jeffrey said high speed rail is a long-term project, and she wants to focus on more immediate priorities, such as all day GO train service. “Council may have got up in arms that we weren’t considered, but we did just turn down an LRT after all,” she said.
If you’re getting the sense that these differences are leading to a Jeffrey/Sanderson 2018 electoral showdown, don’t go there yet. Sanderson said he’s still considering his options.
For her part, Jeffrey said the turmoil comes with the job. “I knocked on people’s doors and asked for this,” she said. “I’m not complaining. But it’s true, I’ve never done anything as difficult as this job before. And this job is growing me in ways I never imagined,” she added with a laugh.
Jeffrey said one of her main concerns for the next election is racial discrimination. Two-thirds of Brampton’s population are visible minorities, but council is still overwhelmingly white. Last week, Councillor John Sprovieri suggested in an email to a constituent that he hoped “the new comers will learn the values of the white people.”
“My opponents want old Brampton left alone, the way it was,” Jeffrey said. “There’s a resistance to diversity in our downtown.”
Sanderson, of course, rejects that. “We just want someone to make the right decisions for Brampton’s future,” he said. “We’ve got a mayor who still has her hat on for the Ontario Liberals.”
Rematch in 2018, anyone?
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated there was a high-speed railway stop proposed for Milton; the stop is actually proposed for Malton. We regret the error.
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