Western University, Department of Communication & Public Affairs
Westminster Hall, Suite 360, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 3K7
Tel: 519-661-2045 • Fax: 519-661-3921
Staying on Track: Dealing with Toronto's Transit Growth
It’s simply not a dirty word to Karen Stintz.
“Yes, I am a ‘politician.’ And there is no shame in it,” said the Toronto city councillor for Eglinton-Lawrence. “Politicians are so anxious to run as a ‘non-politician;’ we ought to change that dialogue. Being able to have a vision, show leadership, engage the public, those are skills we should acknowledge and promote.”
After nearly a decade on council, Stintz, BA’92, Dipl’93 (Political Science, King’s), now finds herself centre stage for one of the Big Smoke’s greatest political dramas, the Mayor Rob Ford Era.
In her role as Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) chair, she has been both ally and critic of the controversial mayor. She has supported Ford’s efforts to control spending, but she has gone toe-to-toe with him – as well as other city and provincial leaders, including Western alumnus and Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak – over what she sees as shortsighted decisions regarding the city’s transit planning.
Now, as Ford’s future has become muddied, Stintz’s name has been bandied about as a possible candidate to replace him. She considered a run for the top job in 2010, but instead successfully ran for her council seat a third time. Stintz hasn’t shied away from the current speculation, opening the door to the chance of her name appearing on a possible by-election ballot.
In 2010, Stintz was named TTC chair and immediately started addressing the financial and customer service issues plaguing the transit system. With many of those behind the organization, she is focused on the city’s long-term commitment to transit. With more than half a billion riders annually, the TTC is behind only New York and Mexico City as North America’s busiest public transit system.
“The big fear is we continue to talk about it, but don’t build it. It’s a lot easier to push the problem to the next government. But knowing we are out of time is the constant pressure for me,” she said. “Everyone has been kicking the ball down the field. But we’re out of field.”
This push for a long-term plan has put her at odds with proponents of short-term savings. But she is seeing a real shift in attitude. Where transit was once the purview of a few activists, most citizens today – and, in turn, their governments – are starting to see it as necessity.
“There were periods last February and March (during the transit fight) that were very difficult times and often I questioned the wisdom of what I was doing,” she said.
“But I stayed true to the belief that this was the only way to contribute to the next generation. I knew I had to stay focused on that goal.”
Stintz speaks truth to power with ease and sanity. She credits experience and, particularly, her failures with fortifying a political spine which is the envy of many.
“I’ve had a lot of them (failures),” she said. “But it’s the decision to recover from those failures, and keep going, that inspires me to take on new challenges. We all make mistakes, yet if you’re confident in the cause you are pursuing, then you’ll find a way to recover.”
It’s a whirlwind political career that started at Western.
She arrived on campus at 17, a bit younger than many classmates. She would soon move from Saugeen-Maitland Hall into a house with six other people. Many of those roommates she still calls friends today, a feat she could credit to an early propensity at political compromise.
She would be drawn to Political Science with hopes of becoming a journalist, but that fast faded. “I wasn’t very good at it,” she laughed.
“It was at Western where I learned how to take risks, confront challenges, try new things,” Stintz said. “Because it was a new environment, but still a safe environment, you could try a whole bunch of things, fail at a few, and then try again.”
That would come in handy a decade later. In 2003, Stintz was helping John Tory run for Toronto mayor against David Miller.
“It was also a time when I was considering where I wanted to go in my life. I had mentioned to my husband I had considered politics. He said if that’s what you want to do, then do it. Don’t wait. There is an opportunity now, since it is a municipal election, and while you won’t be successful, you can start building your base,” she explained.
She would run, and win in a shocking victory fueled by opposition to a midtown condo development. The long-time incumbent she knocked out of the seat happened to be a close political ally of Miller, who would win the mayor’s race over Tory.
“So I was already starting out on the wrong foot,” she laughed. “I thought I knew a lot about how government worked having studied it in school. But being at the municipal level is a whole different beast. It has been a trial by fire.”
Since taking office, Stintz has fortified her standing as a true believer in the power of local government, and laments the fact fewer are not engaged in the process.
“The range of things we do (as a municipality) is remarkable, yet voter interest is the lowest and voter turnout is the lowest and most people don’t actually know who their city councillor is,” she said. “So for me, it is a fascinating dynamic.”
If she could walk into a classroom today, she would stress one point.
“It is possible to make change,” Stintz said. “Don’t get disengaged. It is possible to build consensus and you get better outcomes when you do so.”
And while the study of politics often revolves around the conflicts, Stintz explained much of the practice of politics is about that consensus.
“How are we going to manage our energy policy? How are we going to build a just society? How are we going to ensure we are building a productive nation competing on the global stage? Those are the issues that require thoughtful discourse, not conflict,” she said. “Solving those challenges are not easy, but it can be done.
“There are a lot of issues – as a country, as a province, as a city – that we’re only going to solve if we engage the public. And part of that engagement is having good politicians.”
Western Alumni TORONTO LECTURE SERIES: Helping Make Toronto "One City"
TTC Chair, Councillor and alumna Karen Stintz, will discuss aspects of the past two historic years on Toronto City Council including leadership, consensus, transit and how city building may proceed in an era of enhanced fiscal prudence.
10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON
Ms. Karen Stintz
Registration is $15.00 per person. Please register online by Tuesday, February 5, 2013.
Doors open at 9:30 a.m. (March 1 event)
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