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Toronto mayoral candidate Ana Bailão says track record at city hall speaks for itself

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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles on the seven leading contenders in Toronto’s mayoral race, according to polls. Additional profiles will be published in the coming days.

Ana Bailão trots closely behind her small group of volunteers as they walk along a street in Mimico with one mission in mind: get votes.

"I'm feeling good," a smiling Bailão says as the Toronto mayoral campaign enters its final three weeks.

There is no hint of panic in the candidate's voice despite polls suggesting that she is still trailing behind perceived front-runner Olivia Chow with the June 26 election day inching closer.

"This is great. Being out at community events and knocking on doors," she says.

Having three council terms under her belt before leaving city hall, where she focused on housing – an issue that has become one of the most pressing this election, the 46-year-old was considered early on to be one of the possible candidates to replace John Tory, who resigned from the mayor's office after admitting to having an affair with a staffer.

Bailão admits that she never aspired for higher office, even when she was a councillor. When she announced her exit from municipal politics a year ago, she said she wanted to do something different and contribute to the city in another way. Earlier this year, she took a job at real estate company Dream Unlimited as its head of affordable housing and public affairs.

"It was actually people around me, including John Tory, that started, saying, 'you are really good at bringing people together, you are really good at getting things done at city hall, which is not an easy place… you're really good at working with other orders of government, you need to think about it,'" she says.

So, she thought hard about it, and what eventually pushed her, Bailão says, was the desire to make life "easier and more affordable for every 15-year-old that is going to come, or that was born here."

Ana Bailão campaigns in Mimico with a several of her volunteers on Sunday, June 4, 2023. (Bryann Aguilar/CP24)

"Nobody thought we were going to have an election at this time," she says. "I think we need somebody with my values, life experience and work experience."

Bailão and her team’s destination on this clear and breezy Sunday morning is a stretch of homes on Evans Avenue, east of Islington Avenue and a few metres away from Ourland Community Centre, where advance voting would be held in a few days.

For one hour, Bailão and her volunteers wearing zesty green t-shirts and carrying campaign pamphlets and lawn signs, knocked on dozens of townhouses, bungalows, and semi-detached homes, even dropping by a corner convenience store.

"This is the part I enjoy the most," she says.

Sometimes, they also approach curious drivers who would stop and peek to see what's going on. Bailão's bright green campaign colour is eye-catching, after all, which she says was the reason why her team chose it.

"I want it to be bright. We want people to feel us out in the neighbourhoods in the city," Bailão says. While it's one of her top hues, she says red is her favourite colour.

She doesn't have any special routine before she goes door-knocking, but Bailão says she has been wearing a gold ring that belonged to her grandmother.

Bailão attributes her strong values to her grandmother, whom she considers her role model in life and who instilled in her the importance of education and always remembering where one came from.

"She's the most important person that I had in my life," she says. "She was everything to me."

By noon, the 46-year-old has spoken to more than a dozen residents who responded to the knocks on the door and were willing to listen to what the mayoral candidate had to say.

Many of them hadn't made up their minds on who to choose as mayor, and some even were still pondering if they should vote or not.

Ana Bailão talks to a resident in Mimico while campaigning on Sunday, June 4, 2023. (Bryann Aguilar/CP24)

They all had different concerns: traffic congestion, lack of recreational services, affordability, and crime – all of which have been the top issues in this election campaign.

One mother holding her young daughter told Bailão about how frustrating it is to get into recreational programs in the city due to limited space. She added that she is willing to pay higher taxes as long as city services improved, admitting to Bailão that she was leaning toward voting for Chow. Another woman tending to her lawn, an undecided voter, said she was worried about the recent violence happening across the city.

Bailão listened intently as each resident voiced their concerns before telling them that she had a plan to address them if she becomes mayor.

From alleviating traffic to public safety, she gave her spiel about how she will hit the ground running on her first day in office.

"I need you," Bailão tells every resident she meets, a tinge of urgency in her voice. "I need your vote."

Standing beside her, Liberal MP James Maloney, who joined to canvass, jump in, saying Bailão is the only candidate that brings all levels of government together.

Maloney, who represents the area, says the federal government had a positive working relationship with Toronto under John Tory, which benefited his community and others in the city.

"Ana is by far the candidate who's best situated to make sure that positive relationship continues because we've seen some real progress made on housing and transit -- all the issues that are so important to my constituents and people across the city," he says.

 

Maloney, who briefly worked with Bailão when he became the interim councillor for Ward 5 in 2014, is one of the several politicians who has publicly endorsed Bailão. The list also includes six current city councillors.

"I've seen the work at council, and I've seen the work she's been doing while I've been a federal member for seven-and-a-half years. I know she can do it," Maloney says.

Bailão represented the neighbourhood of Davenport from 2011 to 2022. However, she first attempted to run for council in 2003 but was unsuccessful.

She initially wanted to become a social worker. Bailão says a career in politics wasn't something she had in mind when she immigrated to Toronto in 1991.

"When you come here at 15, you think about learning English, how you're going to pay for university, how you're going to find a job and get the stability and feel included in the city and part of the city," Bailão says.

She admitted that she didn't want to move to Canada at the beginning, leaving her friends and her grandmother behind in Portugal. Bailão also did not speak much English. She thought it was the end of the world.

"It wasn't easy," she says. "I was scared."

Her father worked in construction while her mother was a seamstress. After a couple of months, she would join her mother at her second job cleaning offices at night.

It wasn't until later on, when she became involved in community work, that it got her thinking about public office. She eventually worked for then-councillor Mario Silva. That was the beginning, Bailão says, of how she "fell in love" with municipal politics.

"It was my community work that taught me everything about getting things done and how getting a seat at the table and pushing for better programs for communities or for workers," she says.

During her three terms on council, she took on several roles focused on housing, including chair of the Planning and Housing committee, in which she helped develop HousingTO, a 10-year action plan to address the city's housing concerns. Under the plan is Housing Now, an initiative that would see city-owned land used for the development of affordable housing. While it was launched four years ago, the city has yet to break ground on any of the sites selected due to a number of reasons, including the pandemic and the costs of construction going up.

Bailão says she will tender the deals awarded for the projects if no progress is made during her first year as mayor.

"I went off to do affordable housing, and I'm coming back because I have the experience to get it done," she says.

"I was always very passionate about housing because, for me, housing is what brings stability so people can have success. If you need to take care of your health, you can't take care of your health if you don't know where you're going to sleep at night. If you're a working family, you need to make sure that you have enough to get your kids into programs, to spend time with your kids doing homework, and you need to have that stability of a home. And I think that is very important."

Besides housing, Bailão is also pitching herself as the candidate who can fix city services and address the affordability crisis without a huge property tax increase but instead by getting a "fair deal" from the provincial and federal governments.

Toronto is facing about $46 billion in fiscal pressures over the next decade, according to Ernst & Young.

"It can't be all about taxes," Bailão says.

"If there's one thing that people appreciated during the pandemic, it was governments coming together and dealing with this crisis and working together. And I believe that that's what we need to continue doing as we come out of the pandemic."

It should be noted that the federal government tabled its budget in April without funding to help close the city's $1.4 billion budget gap. Meanwhile, the provincial government has not indicated it will provide the money Toronto is requesting beyond the $48 million it set aside for the city's supportive housing.

Bailão has also pledged that she will ensure that the Ontario government will take responsibility for the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway so money used by the city to maintain the two highways can be used to fund other services.

Asked about how she can convince Premier Doug Ford to take over the Gardiner and the DVP, Bailão did not give a specific answer but said she is a woman who doesn't take no for an answer.

She recalled one particular moment during her time in council when she was able to broker a deal to save hundreds of houses owned by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation to cover the repair backlog.

"Shortly after I got elected as a councillor, there was a proposal to sell over 800 Toronto Community Housing homes. And I fought it. And I said, 'We need a plan to work with the other orders of government to have money to have a fully costed capital repair backlog.' Everybody at the time said, 'Oh, it can't be done, can't be done.' I did it," Bailão says.

"I will have the mandate from the people of Toronto. And I believe the premier respects the voters," she adds.

While Bailão touts her accomplishments as a councillor and the endorsements she has received not only from politicians but also from several unions, some see her as part of the establishment that "broke" it.

A website created by a group that described itself as concerned citizens of Ward 9 and Ward 19 lists Bailão's council voting record on several issues relating to housing, homelessness, transit, safe streets, parks and the environment. It is affiliated with Toronto Citizens Collective, which is a registered third-party advertiser in this election. The group is also campaigning against Brad Bradford and Mark Saunders.

The website reads: "We do not believe that Ana Bailão has the ability or intention to undo the harm she has done to this city by supporting worsening city services, weak rent control, a ballooning police budget, and more expensive, less frequent transit."

When asked about it, Bailão brushes it off. "Democracy allows people to have their own opinions as well. People, you know, very often take out votes out of context as well," she says, adding that she is proud of what she did as a councillor.

"I know the record that I that I've had the work that I've done with my community. That's why the last election that I ran, I had 84 per cent of my community re-electing me. I'm proud of everything that we've accomplished," Bailão says.

It's been a hectic 12 months for the 46-year-old, which she hopes will be capped off with her becoming the first female mayor of Toronto post-amalgamation.

As for her strategy for the final weeks of the campaign, Bailão says: "I'm going to continue to present the clear choice that people have in this election. And they have a choice to have Olivia Chow, that is going to increase taxes by we don't know how much; that is going to have the failed NDP policies of spend and tax, or they have Ana Bailão -- somebody that has a track record of getting things done at city hall."

 

Neighbourhood you live in: Davenport (with her Maltese poodle Minda – although the dog is temporarily with Bailão’s parents’ home in Vaughan)

Toronto’s hidden gem: West Toronto Railpath

Favourite Toronto food or restaurant to grab a bite: Mercado Restaurant (located near Eglinton Avenue West and Caledonia Road) and usually orders fish.

Favourite Toronto event or festival: Do West Festival

Is it the Beach or Beaches: Beaches

What was your first job: Cleaning offices

What is your favourite song (right now): Unstoppable by Sia

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