Doorstep Postings: Dianne Saxe feels she has nothing left to prove—but now she wants to bring those smarts to Toronto City Hall

Dianne Saxe on the campaign trail with a shofar blower, Sept. 23, 2022. (Twitter)

This is the ninth in a series of opinion columns on Ontario’s 2022 municipal elections, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

“I know I need to give short answers,” Dianne Saxe tells me, though I know she could tell me lots of things I don’t know. We’ve only got 20 minutes to capture the essence of her campaign before she hits the trail once again. 

The former Ontario environment commissioner’s story is a familiar one for political observers. Daughter of the often infamous politician and physician Morton Shulman, stalwart supporter and member of one of the founding families of the First Narayever congregation, early shareholder for the storied Victory Burlesque Theatre—and, most recently, deputy leader of Ontario’s Green Party.

“At this stage, I have nothing left to prove.”

So, what does she want to prove by running for city council, against 13 other non-incumbent contenders for Toronto’s Ward 11? (It’s also the University-Rosedale riding where she unsuccessfully ran for the provincial Greens.) ”There’s a lot of opportunity to make a tangible difference for the long-term future of the city.”

And that means making room for new neighbours of those living in houses they bought decades ago.

Saxe believes strongly that we have the power to build a city where everything you need is within 15 minutes’ travel time, and where we can have zero deaths on the roads. 

“The climate crisis is a catalyst for changing everything,” she says. “The Greater Toronto Area is a massive centre of immigration, but significant parts of the city are stagnant and losing population. Scarborough is losing a whole riding in the recent federal redistribution for this reason alone. We have room, but we are excluding people because of outdated zoning rules.”

Saxe tells me that these zoning rules create a situation where there has been a lot of success subdividing some of the older, larger buildings in the Rosedale portion of the ward, but you can’t build them in the “University” part of University-Rosedale.

Another barrier is the large number of single-family homes where parents want to convert the garage to a living space for their children. “A multi-unit dwelling has to be smaller than a single-unit dwelling if you want a duplex,” she explains. 

Then there’s her other eternal enemy: sprawl, which she tells me is the reason that we suffer from the worst commutes in North America. Not only is it bad for the climate, but sitting in a car for two hours a day is deleterious to your health. She quotes a study that shows that people who cycle around the city have a 40 percent reduced risk of mortality. 

Saxe says there’s a strong business case for 75 percent of short trips being made under human power alone, which includes walking, biking or using a wheelchair. “Walkers and cyclists go into local businesses,” she says, “but people in their cars go right by them without buying anything.” 

The six-lane portion of Avenue Road below St. Clair Avenue is a particular example of how not to do things the Dianne Saxe way. “There’s a tiny broken sidewalk, cars racing in both directions. There’s no street trees and nowhere to sit. People have fewer friends on a street like that. And I can tell you how hard it was to push my late husband, who was six feet tall and in a wheelchair, up and down that hill.”

If she had her way, Saxe would allow not just more bike lanes and fewer lanes for cars, but also for people in wheelchairs, and plenty of speed enforcement cameras to catch what she says is a minority of irresponsible rivers.

“It’s the same people being picked up again and again, and yet, we blame individuals when the city is responsible. You wouldn’t blame the people in an elevator if 40 people a year were being killed by getting into elevators, and yet, this is how we treat deaths in vehicles.

“We have been helpless for so long,” she says. “But we can still make this city liveable for my children.”

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