Long-time North York councillor steps down

Willowdale councillor and Transform Yonge champion John Filion will not run in next election after 36 years of politics

After more than three decades down at Toronto city hall, long-time Willowdale councillor John Filion announced last month that he will not seek re-election.

The ward has been split in two, Wards 28 and 29, for the election on Oct. 22 as a result of population increase.

It’s been a year in Willowdale to be sure, with the tragic and still fresh van attack earlier in the year as well as the years-long Transform Yonge project being put on the city hall back burner after a contentious debate that included Filion’s ward neighbour David Shiner opposing the project at the last moment. Although Filion had been planning to step down for a while, the latest incidents almost made him reconsider if good replacement candidates had not stepped forward.

Instead, he has decided to endorse community organizer Lily Cheng for Ward 29 as well as his former executive assistant Markus O’Brien-Fehr in Ward 28.

“I haven’t talked to the mayor, not sure if his opinion has changed.”

“They are both wonderful human beings, which is actually something of importance in a politician,” he said. “You need people with character and integrity, and more frequently than I’d wished, these days tend to have people coming forward wishing to have a title in front of their name or represent some kind of interest group.”

Since the failure of Transform Yonge, there has been a disturbing number of pedestrians and cyclists hit and injured or killed by drivers on city streets, and Filion thinks councillors are finally cluing in.

“I think some key people just weren’t ready for it yet, and I haven’t talked to the mayor, not sure if his opinion has changed, but certainly public sentiment has changed a lot,” he said. “He will certainly pick it up on the campaign trail.”

Cheng, for one, plans on continuing to champion the proposal, which could return to Toronto City Council within the next year.

“We do need to implement something, and Transform Yonge is a beautiful proposal that would make the neighbourhood more livable for residents for the sake of safety and for the sake of the families,” Cheng said. “It is definitely something I want to help continue championing alongside the candidate running in Ward 28, Markus O’Brien-Fehr, John’s assistant all these years. We want to share this common vision for Willowdale.”

Correction: A previous version of this story had incorrectly identified Markus O’Brien as the candidate running in Ward 29.

Article exclusive to TRNTO