Cover photo adapted from mayorbillard.com.
We recently had the chance to chat with Jeff Billard, a candidate for mayor of Toronto. He believes in public service and wants to bring fresh ideas to Toronto outside of traditional left-right paradigms, and prides himself on actually having a job, unlike some of the other candidates running. Below is a condensed transcript of our interview.
The True North Times: Why did you decide to enter the Toronto mayoral race when it’s so full of ridiculous antics and insanity?
Jeff Billard: There’s a great opportunity for someone like me to help rebuild trust, accountability, openness with fellow citizens and the media, and work with fellow citizens and council to make Toronto the world-class city it strives to be. I believe I provide a great alternative to career politicians, gimmicky candidates, and nominees with a lot of style but no substance.
TNT: Against all odds, Rob Ford is running for re-election. What will you be able to bring to the people of Toronto that he won’t?
JB: There are a lot of things I’ll be able to bring to Torontonians that our outgoing mayor won’t:
I’m a collaborative person. Much more can be accomplished through collaboration instead of bullying, instituting an environment of “us vs. them,” or being the dissenting vote on issues just for the sake of it. I believe all city councillors have the best interests of their wards and the city at heart, and using that as a foundation is a great place to start.
I’m a problem-solver. I’m transparent. I’m not a “take credit” kind of guy. I’d rather have a great city and be a nobody, than have a mediocre city and be a somebody. I love people. What better job to have than mayor of a city of three million people you love? I also have a sense of humour (how can you not, after living through 2013 and 2014 in Toronto?). Other than that, I think it helps keep me relatively stress-free and able to laugh at the small problems in life.
TNT: On your website, you’ve spoken in favour of de-amalgamation, or separating Toronto into boroughs. What do you hope to gain in diminishing the position that you were just elected to?
JB: *sigh* I was hoping the question of d’amalg wouldn’t come up. It was something I took interest in early on, but, when I started solidifying my platform, I realized it’s not something that is a current focus of the vast majority of people. I still believe d’amalg is something Toronto should explore, given that it would save each of the boroughs money in the long run, and would provide more funding from the provincial and federal levels of government, but, like many ideas, its time is not now.
TNT: The past twelve months have seen Toronto featured everywhere from the Daily Show to the Kuwaiti press. How would you restore Toronto’s reputation on the international stage?
JB: Creative, innovative, and long-term ideas that make the city a better place to live and to visit are what put us on the map in a positive light. Additionally, putting a focus on the many fantastic things that already exist in Toronto (street fests, film fests, art crawls, etc.) will bring more people here, and remind my fellow citizens of all the amazing opportunities there are here.
TNT: What are the most pressing issues facing Toronto? How will you grapple with them? Why should anyone care about issues that don’t directly affect them?
JB: Youth employment is a very big issue, as well as the number of youths working in unpaid intern positions. The top 100 Canadian CEO’s salaries went up 73% between 1998 and 2012, while the average Canadian’s wages went up by 6% in the same time period. There’s no excuse for top-level companies earning top-level profits not to hire youth instead of using them as unpaid labour.
TNT: How do you think you’ll be able to use your life experiences to help Toronto prosper?
JB: I’ve been my workplace’s local union president for almost four years now, and I see good and bad things about unions. This may not be a typical statement for someone who’s a union president, but I’m not a hard and fast ideology type of person.
This lends itself to a sense of pragmatism. Our outgoing mayor is dogmatic in his belief that his way is the absolute way for Toronto. I don’t presume to be that smart. I believe speaking to people, listening to different opinions, and finding common ground on many issues provides more buy-in on big ideas for the city.
TNT: Toronto City Council has become famous for shouting sessions, tackling colleagues, drinking milk, dancing, and tickling one another. What type of environment would you try to create in the Billard administration?
JB: One of respect, not only for the citizens of Toronto, but for one another. I mentioned above that all 44 Toronto councillors have a commonality: they love this city, and want it to be a better place. Let’s work on ways for us to all work together as a single body with long-term vision for a better Toronto. As for drinking milk and dancing, I’m all for these, but not at the same time.
TNT: It seems like, every other day, someone new is throwing their hat into the ring. What do you think that says about this race? What makes you less crazy than the other candidates?
JB: I believe the number of candidates (62, as of this writing) is a direct statement on the dissatisfaction of the city with our outgoing mayor. “Less crazy” is relative, but I believe I’m a great choice as a candidate in that I’m not a career politician like the more well-known candidates. I have fresh ideas. I’m also a very collaborative person, and I believe that working with fellow councillors to make this city the world-class city it should be will be a common goal we all share. Unlike every other candidate in this election, I am a centrist. I believe most Torontonians are, too. Everyone has varying opinions on things, but I believe most people are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and my views reflect a larger percentage of my fellow citizens than all other candidates.
TNT: Lastly, if you could impart one piece of wisdom to our readers, what would you tell them?
JB: Vote. Barely half of Torontonians voted in the last mayoral election, yet everyone has an opinion about our outgoing mayor! My mother once said, “if you don’t participate, you have no right to complain,” and I take that seriously. If everyone voted and participated in the process, then, at the very least, you have a right to complain when someone other than who you voted for is elected. And complaints can turn into actions to effect change, even in a system where your favourite candidate didn’t win.