Doorstep Postings: Josh Matlow on how Passover has helped him prepare for three months of running to become the next mayor of Toronto

Welcome to the first 2023 Toronto mayoral byelection race edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

Jews all over the world look forward to the seders, but Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow was more grateful than most for the break, given that the week began with the official start of a mayoral byelection—whose ballot was immediately packed with experienced candidates aspiring to get elected on June 26. 

“It’s an oasis in the midst of the life I’ve been living,” he said on April 6, the first day of Passover. “We’ve got 11-and-a-half weeks to go, and it feels a lot longer than that sometimes.”

Matlow, who officially declared his intention to run to replace John Tory on March 21—and filed papers as soon as possible on April 3—had spent the morning after the seder announcing that he wouldn’t let 16 acres of land owned by the city go towards the building of a controversial spa on the waterfront.

He also signalled his disagreement with former councillor Ana Bailão’s plan to move the Ontario Science Centre to the waterfront and build housing in its place at Don Mills and Eglinton.

“It’s not up to the city to decide whether the Science Centre moves,” Matlow conceded. “But building houses on the site of the current Science Centre isn’t a well thought-through announcement.

“You can’t build there because it’s on the slope of a ravine, and it’s also a flood plain. Furthermore, many residents of Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park rely on the Science Centre for jobs, and lower-income residents of those neighbourhoods benefit from the reduced prices at the Science Centre.”

Moving the location “is not leadership,” he affirmed: “We need to be serious, and as mayor I plan to speak out against political maneuvers and advocate for a better outcome and for substantive goals.”

First elected to council in 2010—and handily re-elected in the midtown St. Paul’s riding for each term since—Matlow has also called for the capping of the Toronto Police budget at $1.16 billion for three years, while creating a $115-million “community health and safety fund” to help local supports address the root causes of crime.

Criticism for this plan came from former top cop Mark Saunders—who’s also running for mayor—and other critics who say it amounts to defunding the police, Matlow has remained firm on the need to deal with hate crimes against the Jewish community, due to it being the number-one target of hate crimes. 

When asked what improvements he would make above and beyond John Tory’s administration, Matlow took a more conciliatory tone than when we spoke to him last time, where he called out the mayor’s office for “not prioritizing the Jewish community with respect to its campaigns to challenge hate.”

“Mayor Tory was a steadfast friend of the Jewish community even though we disagreed,” he said. “I don’t want to come into the role saying that I will be doing this better, necessarily.” But he would attempt improve the Toronto for All campaign, which has used public-space advertising to fight discrimination.

In the early stages of his mayoral bid, Matlow has spoken with Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, B’nai Brith and current police chief Myron Demkiw about antisemitism in Toronto. (He also joined a group of Bernard Betel Centre volunteers providing seniors with hot meals for Passover.)

Meanwhile, he wasn’t shy about addressing the vote to dock his pay for 10 days for tweets critical of city staff that violated the code of conduct.

Matlow tweeted that he’d been “lied to” with respect to information about dates when park bathrooms were opened last summer. He also called interim city manager Tracey Cook “the wrong person” for the job as she had—in Matlow’s view—cleared out encampments of homeless people in a “violent” way and “omitted facts” with respect to the SmartTrack subway program. 

While the vote to dock his pay passed nearly unanimously—with council colleague Anthony Perruzza being the only “no” vote—Matlow had no regrets for “demanding accountability,” and he plans to speak with each one to generate ideas on how to support their communities.

He’s also asking voters to stay tuned for “a substantive and courageous housing policy,” which is being developed in consultation with experts in respective fields: “It’ll be evidence based with proper costing, and a big focus will be on affordability and price points.” The urgent need to fill the “missing middle” of rental housing will be a priority for him during the campaign.

And, if a dozen years on city council wasn’t enough training for a mayoral bid, Matlow will be leaning on a bit of Jewish inspiration.

“Anyone who’s ever sat around a seder table knows to come prepared for a good debate.”

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