With less seats at City Hall, rookie councillors hope to make impact

When asked to describe going from Queen's Park to Toronto City Hall, Ward 8 Cllr. Mike Colle uses words like liberating and refreshing. 

"Because people aren't trying to coral you or try to organize you to say well we're going to this, we're going to that," he said Monday. "It's a very open series of discussions with councillors, with the mayor and that's a refreshing change for me." 

Colle is one of a handful of new councillors that will be sworn in Tuesday, but his ties to Toronto go back to when he was a councillor for-then Metropolitan Toronto in the 1980s and early 1990s.

After losing his Liberal seat in the last provincial election, Colle takes over for Eglinton-Lawrence from his son Josh, who opted not to run for re-election. 

"For being away from the party structure, government structure, opposition, it's really liberating being at City Hall because you're independent," the senior Colle said. "You don't really have a boss, your boss is the people who elected you." 

Colle said his hope is bipartisanship will trickle to everyone on this smaller, slimmer council, which is now made up of 25 wards from the previous 47. 

"People don't want bickering, they don't want squabbling," Ward 19 Beaches-East York Cllr. Brad Bradford said, adding he's hopeful there's an opening for fresh councillors like him to have an impact. 

"Every vote matters now more than ever."
 
While Colle points to job creation and tourism, Bradford - who previously worked in city planning - said when it comes to one of his focuses of affordable housing, he'll push for growing already established neighbourhoods. 

"We need to continue to push forward with laneway suites, looking at duplexes, triplexes, ways that we can introduce housing options for people, but not in a way that disrupts the character of our neighbourhoods," he said. 

Two of the rookie councillors come out of Scarborough: Ward 23's Cynthia Lai and 25's Jennifer McKelvie. 

Both had transit top of mind as they packed their offices Monday, with McKelvie saying the good news is there's plans for the Scarborough subway and the Eglinton East LRT. 

She said her job is to make sure they're seen through, even through problems. 

"Certainly we're not going to be the people that say 'well, that's the way we used to do it,'" she said. "We'll have a different lens on this conversation here at City Hall, being the new kids on the block."

Lai said she plans to use her background in real estate to negotiate better deals for the city, especially on transit. 

"If we don't get enough financing and nobody wants to invest, we sometimes may have to think outside of the box to get some new models, sometimes the status quo isn't the right thing to do," she said, using a hockey analogy for the future. 

"Do you skate to wear the puck is going or do you skate to where the puck is? I tend to think that I want to skate to where the puck is going."