The week after John Tory’s sudden resignation as mayor plunged Toronto City Hall into chaos, Josh Lieblein spoke to Ward 6 (York Centre) city councillor James Pasternak to get an update on what comes next for this special edition of Doorstep Postings.
“It will be very hard to find a friend as good as John. On every issue, from antisemitism to shul security to respecting the day-to-day observances to the trade mission he undertook to Israel in 2017, John Tory was a reliable friend and supporter of the Jewish community.”
Those are the sentiments of James Pasternak, who was first elected to Toronto City Council in 2010 and subsequently served on the mayor’s Executive Committee, and who expressed gratitude to Tory after failing to convince him to remain on the job.
Now that Tory is gone, however, Pasternak is hoping to identify other candidates who can be just as supportive. “We need someone who understands the community and will stand up against the anti-Israel mob.”
The councillor believes that a townhall meeting on Jewish issues, attended by all front-runner candidates, is the right way to identify who is worthy of the community’s support.
Issues covered at this meeting—which he plans to talk to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Friends of Simon Weisenthal Center about potentially hosting—would include “support for the State of Israel, community security, the ability to attend synagogues, go to restaurants and raise flags without being harassed.”
Pasternak pointed to protests at Nathan Phillips Square and Yonge-Dundas Square, held without permits, which he felt violated anti-discrimination policies at a cost to city resources.
“The antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric is obvious, and getting more aggressive.”
Potential candidates to replace Tory in a by-election, now scheduled for June 26, so far include non-profit chair Gil Penalosa, who was Tory’s highest profile challenger last time around. But candidates with more local government experience are expected to join the fray.
The former city councillor names being thrown around include Mike Layton and Ana Bailão, while current councillors who may run include Josh Matlow and Brad Bradford. Former police chief Mark Saunders also reportedly has some big Tory names behind him, including consultant Mitch Wexler and strategist Michael Diamond.
Pasternak agreed that many of the above names have demonstrated support for Israel and Jewish issues, he says anyone who endorses defunding the police doesn’t deserve Jewish community support.
“Police services do need to respond to the needs of the community, especially in the case of illegal gatherings in public spaces. It’s important that no more oxygen be given to them.”
Pasternak also shared his thoughts on the contentious “strong mayor” powers recently afforded by the Ford government to Ottawa and Toronto.
“I don’t foresee these powers being used in a way that could impact the Jewish community specifically,” he said, “but I don’t understand the necessity of the powers. The mayor almost never loses a vote, and the strong mayor powers were rarely used when John Tory was mayor.
“In the hands of someone less responsible they could be abused. Ideally, they should be repealed.”
Meanwhile, as chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, Pasternak also stressed that the new mayor must be ready to inherit a difficult situation.
“The city is facing enormous challenges,” he said. “Even though our financial situation is dire, and our ability to help the homeless is being constrained, we are sheltering more people and saving more lives than ever before, more than any other city in the country.
“We’ve put over $600-million into shelters and housing the homeless. Still, everyone’s noticed the level of random violence, the increase in graffiti, the garbage piling up.
“So the people of Toronto want a mayor they can rely on, but we also need the other levels of government to come to the table because we can’t handle it all alone.”
Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.