Sewells blunt language challenges Tory on public housing: Keenan

Sewells blunt language challenges Tory on public housing: Keenan

In a lot of ways, a friend recently pointed out to me, former Toronto mayor John Sewell is a kind of anti-Tory — in as much as two older white lawyers-turned-politicians, who have lived their lives in the central city and are both named John, can be considered opposites.Where our current Mayor John is sort of the definition of an establishment man — born into wealth and influence, schooled in Big Blue Machine backrooms, familiar with corporate boardrooms and executive suites — former mayor John has spent his whole career kicking the establishment in the shins, or disregarding it altogether, organizing the rabble in street demonstrations and church-pew rallies. While Tory is famously agreeable, justly proud of being known as a conciliator and cooperator, always looking for middle ground in an argument, Sewell is cantankerous, not just willing but often apparently eager to point fingers. While our current mayor is relatively new to city hall and sometimes approaches longstanding issues with outsider eyes, Sewell has spent a career as an activist, politician and writer working relentlessly on the same few issues: land use, policing, governance, and, especially, public housing.And where Tory is famously diplomatic and verbose — his sentences often winding through multiple clauses and digressions and qualifiers before winding around to their resolution, Sewell can tend to be very blunt. This last contrast was on display when Sewell addressed Tory’s executive committee on Wednesday on the topic of closing some public housing units.“Sorry, you’re going the wrong way on affordable housing,” Sewell said. “You’re not increasing the stock. It’s decreasing. That’s the problem.Article Continued Below“I’ll just follow up, if I may,” Tory responded, “by asking whether you’re aware of the advocacy exercise by a number of members of this council, including myself, to the other governments — and I think we’re maybe seeing some fruit from the federal government getting back into housing, and the provincial government to help us with that on the basis that we can’t expend $2.6 billion on repairs that are needed by ourselves?”“I realize you can go out and beg money from them, and then when they don’t give it you can blame them,” Sewell said. “Spend your own money.” It was bracingly direct. A simple message. And he kept it up not just for his five-minute presentation, but for the 35 minutes of questioning from city councillors that followed. Asked by peacemaker Mary Margaret McMahon what compliments he might have for the current administration to go alongside his complaints, he seemed disgusted by the olive branch. “There’s no compliments from me on the affordable housing file for the city council.”

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