An ode to Councillor Michael Walker for his years of comic relief
Mel Lastman once called him a “good excuse for birth control,” but to Michael Walker, long-time city councillor and self-appointed member of the “loyal opposition,” that may be an endorsement, not a slight. After 28 years on council, our city’s most colourful rabble-rouser is hanging up his gloves for good. Over the decades, the representative from St. Paul’s has been the devoted nemesis of two mayors, a crafter of otherworldly policy, and an outspoken critic of gas-powered leaf blowers, downtown delivery vehicles and a city clerk. “I enjoy a good fight,” Walker told news outlets last Thursday after announcing he would not seek re-election this October. And fight he did. Among other achievements, the Ward 22 councillor gave utterly new meaning to the term “policy wonk.” Here, in no particular order, are five career-defining reasons why.
1. The Toronto Split, June 6, 2000
Walker calls for a plebiscite on the secession of Toronto from Ontario, which becomes “absolutely” barred under a new law on municipal referendums. Walker’s push for the referendum may have been a gripe about how little provincial funding the city gets, given how much tax money it puts into government coffers. Nevertheless, it stands as quite possibly the most bizarre extrapolation of democracy this city has ever seen.
2. Airport Capitalism, August 16, 1994
Walker declares Toronto Island Airport should be “exploited, marketed and flogged for everything it’s worth.” It’s a wildly unpopular position among Torontonians, both then and now: “With all the new noise and fumes in the vicinity,” the Star wrote, “Walker should…turn Centre Island into a convenient city garbage dump.”
3. Delivery Vehicle Ban, December 28, 2000
Walker declares delivery vehicles responsible for downtown delays during peak traffic hours. His proposal to restrict deliveries within the city—possibly to the hours between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.—is roundly rejected by council. Catherine Swift, then president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, dismisses the councillor’s bylaw idea as “stupidity.”
4. Walker Versus Leaf Blowers, December 12, 2006
Walker makes his third effort to ban noisy, polluting, gasoline-powered leaf blowers from the city. With David Miller’s war on greenhouse gases underway, he thinks he may finally have the strategy he needs to best his carbon-emitting foe. “[The blowers] are filthy,” he says in an interview. “This council talks about being pro-environment, so let’s see some action.”
5. “Intemperate” Words, October 8, 1992
Toronto Mayor June Rowlands convenes a special meeting to address remarks made by Councillor Walker to city clerk Barbara Caplan. Caplan calls Walker’s remarks “frightening and upsetting.” No word from either party about what was said, though Walker admits his remarks were “intemperate.” The city’s personnel committee goes to work on a code of conduct for city employees and council members in the workplace. A new policy is born.