Four years after ruling out another run in politics, former Ward 32 councillor, Sandra Bussin wants her old seat back.
The riding of Beaches-East York was one of the most brutally fought battles of the 2010 campaign, and it ended with Mary-Margaret McMahon defeating the incumbent Bussin by more than 9000 votes. Bussin was a lightning rod for criticism in that campaign and was often cited as an example of the so-called “gravy train” mayor Rob Ford was promising to eliminate from City Hall.
“I really was the symbol of the Miller government,” Bussin says, “I don’t really think I saw it as clearly as I do now.”
Bussin herself became a political issue in the 2010 campaign. After two terms with David Miller as mayor, some Torontonians were growing tired of his left-wing politics, and Sandra Bussin was one of Miller’s strongest supporters. In 2010, Bussin was serving her 13th year as councillor for the ward and controversies were beginning to stick to her.
Among the controversies were an expensed $205 Easter bunny costume, and her part in the Beaches Boardwalk Pub receiving a 20-year untendered contract from the city. On election night 2010 McMahon told supporters at her victory party that politicians are like diapers – “They need to be changed often and for the same reasons.” Four years later, however, Bussin says her ward has a “leadership void” at City Hall and change needs to happen again.
One of the qualities that has endeared McMahon to residents is her motherly, nurturing approach to work in the ward. During her four years in office she’s often provided homemade treats to constituents and made appearances at countless community events, however her challengers feel the ward deserves more.
“The baking cookies solution to everything is not my idea of leadership” says Bussin, adding that McMahon was “nowhere to be seen” during the December 2013 ice storm. “She didn’t do what one would have expected from a councillor.”
McMahon, on the other hand, defended her actions to the Toronto Star, saying “I have never worked so hard in my life as I did during the ice storm” and says proof of her work is documented on Facebook and Twitter.
“I would say to my predecessor, I never heard from her – all she had to do was pick up the phone and give me a call and let me know that her power was out,” said McMahon, “a man I just spoke to who wanted a sign and wanted to give me a donation lives on her street and he said that my attention was ‘very exceptional.’”
In order for Bussin to make a return to City Hall, voters will need to have a change of heart from 2010.
“Campaigns really are absorbing of your time, I really was the focus and the symbol of the Miller government,” said Bussin, “I don’t think I really saw it as clearly as I do now. I think there’s things…you know, if you had a crystal ball, you’d do things differently.”
After four years out of politics, she has had time to think and reconsider the controversy that haunted her in the 2010 campaign, saying she would have handled the Boardwalk Cafe situation differently.
“I think they were looking at bigger and more aggressive plans for that location and I was very concerned about that at the time.” Bussin said, “Now I say ok, if people really feel like they didn’t like that restaurant, then maybe we should have gone through that journey.”
The “gravy train” may have been a concern in Ward 32 in 2010, but it seems less pressing now as most candidates have talked about residents wanting to move on from Rob and Doug Ford and for public transit infrastructure to be built.
Bussin believes she can regain the trust of her constituents and lead again: “I can get things done in this ward. If they want leadership again, there’s no learning curve here. I’m a pretty quick study. I know what I’m doing.”