Doorstep Postings: Meet the Toronto lawyer behind a campaign targeting mayoral candidate Josh Matlow

This is the eighth Toronto mayoral byelection race edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

“At the end of the day, even though I have my own preferences, Josh Matlow has been so bad that people need to be aware of his own record,” says Kevin Wiener. “If more votes go to Olivia Chow, that’s OK, because she wouldn’t be as bad.” 

Wiener is a Toronto lawyer with roots in Josh Matlow’s midtown Toronto ward of St. Paul’s. And now, thanks to the mayoral byelection allowing third-party advertisers, he’s launched Matlow vs. Housing.

The point is to publicly label the candidate as “Toronto’s NIMBY-in-chief” by pointing to his 12-year record as a city councillor.

A former graduate school association president at Queen’s University, Wiener also participated in a Charter challenge against an Ontario law banning underage drivers from getting behind the wheel after drinking any alcohol. 

And, as further proof of tenacity on certain topics, he’s spent seven years trying to get his friend to watch a box set of Battlestar Galactica by paying the stars of the show to deliver personal appeals:

Wiener is part of a politically active family: his mother Lillyann Goldstein ran in St. Paul’s as an Ontario PC candidate in 2007, and his brother Michael once attempted to replace Matlow as a school trustee. Kevin himself registered to run for Toronto city council in 2018—until the province halved the number of seats.

But this third-party campaign is dedicated to one specific subject:

“The same NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) policies that Matlow championed in St. Paul’s could be citywide if he becomes mayor,” says Wiener. “He’s been fighting development near subway stations, near arterials. Now he’s trying to run away from his own record as a mayoral candidate.

“For example, he says he supports the building of nine-storey buildings—but he has previously opposed a nine-storey building on Avenue Road.”

Matlow has promised to involve the city in building affordable housing on publicly-owned land as mayor, double the land transfer tax on the purchase of second homes, and change the development process so that city planners work together with stakeholders. Wiener isn’t convinced, particularly on the last point.

“Matlow wants to take NIMBY groups and put them in the driver’s seat,” he says, while specifically identifying FoNTRA (the Federation of North Toronto Residents Associations) as one of these groups. FoNTRA has written submissions advocating against building multiplexes in the centre of subdivisions, and opposing the Ontario government’s new Provincial Planning Statement

In the effort to remind voters of this record, Matlow vs. Housing has a thorough digital presence, which will be advertised via online platforms. The group has been taking online donations, and plans to do some door-knocking prior to the June 26 byelection.

Wiener says the first sign of success is that Matlow’s own Twitter account blocked this opposition within an hour. The candidate also deleted a tweet that said he’d “ensure the right kind of people would be involved in the planning process.”

While the response has been mostly positive, Wiener doesn’t expect any of the other campaigns to acknowledge his efforts.

And while he’s working with “some other pro-housing young people,” his own name is the one registered with the city—other affiliates would rather stay out of the spotlight. 

Personally, he thinks the campaign should be of unique interest to Jewish residents of Toronto.

“We can’t keep the community together without housing, and it makes it harder for kids to join the family for Shabbat dinner because the crisis is hitting millennials and Gen Z the hardest. Do you want your kids to be moving to Newmarket?” 

Representatives for Josh Matlow didn’t respond to requests for comment on Matlow vs. Housing.

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.