Ward 18 — Willowdale
About the Ward
Bordered by Steeles Avenue to the north, Bayview Avenue to the east, Highway 401 to the south, and the Don River and Bathurst Street to the west, Willowdale is home to over 118,800 residents with an average age of 38.5, slightly below that of the city. The average household income is $87,416, lower than the city-wide average. Willowdale is one of the most diverse wards in the city—67 percent of residents identify as visible minorities, and 61 percent are immigrants, primarily from Iran, China, the Philippines, and South Korea. Outgoing councillor John Filion has served on city council since 1997.
Where the Candidates Stand
There are four candidates running for the seat vacated by Fillion, including his former city hall aide, Markus O’Brien Fehr, who has been endorsed by both Filion and Mayor John Tory.
Lily Cheng, the executive director of NeighbourLink North York, a Christian community development organization, and founder of the North York Moms Facebook group, is also running again. In 2018, Cheng came in second place, behind Fillion, with 20 percent of the votes.
The matrix below provides a head-to-head comparison of where council candidates stand. The Local combed through city council records to review all the decisions made over the last four years and identified a dozen votes that are the most telling on key issues: homelessness, transportation, housing, policing, taxes, and the environment. We then sent the challengers a survey asking them how they would have voted on those same 12 motions.
Only O’Brien Fehr responded to The Local’s survey request.
Here Are the Takeaways
- O’Brien Fehr took mostly progressive positions compared to Tory, despite being endorsed by him. He supports a judicial inquiry into encampment clearings, and would consider a personal vehicle tax.
- However, O’Brien Fehr did not vote in support of raising property taxes by an additional 2 percent, saying that “with inflation having surged in the past year – a 2% increase would depend greatly on the current baseline. I would support 2%+ over the rate adopted in 2022 – but not 2%+ over current rate of inflation.”
- Like Tory, O’Brien Fehr voted against cutting the police budget to pay rent supplements. He also supported raising the police budget to combat gun violence.
Read Our Election Stories:
Ward Profile: In a Tight Race in Willowdale, All Questions Lead to Housing
A controversial supportive housing project on Cummer Avenue has become a point of contention between the three lead candidates hoping to lead Ward 18.
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City Council Candidates
Lily Cheng is the executive director of NeighbourLink North York, a Christian community development organization. She’s also the founder of a Facebook group called North York Moms and spearheaded the We Love Willowdale campaign after the Toronto van attack in 2018, for which she organized vigils and community events. Cheng ran in the 2018 municipal election, placing second to incumbent Ward 18 councillor, John Filion, with 20 percent of the vote. Her platform includes expanded city infrastructure, like daycares, community centres, schools, parks, and a subway station at Yonge St. and Cummer Ave. She supports road safety infrastructure implementation, and proposes fostering community through neighbourhood associations and regular communication on digital platforms. While she supports increased housing stock and inclusionary zoning, in early October the Toronto Star reported that Cheng criticized the decision to create 59 supportive housing units at 175 Cummer Avenue. The article said that Cheng is against the project because so many units in one place could mean an increase in crime. Cheng subsequently claimed she had been misquoted and that the Star is biased against racialized women running for office. In a recording made at an all-candidates’ meeting, Cheng elaborated on her stance: “I’ve been tracking another site, 11 Macey, and it appears to me that every 2 to 3 days there is a police visit. There is a private resident who is tracking all these police visits. Someone with a gun, someone with a knife. There is a tremendous amount of instability that comes from housing so many complex people together. And like our former mayor John Sewell, I feel like modular supportive housing would be far better if it was mixed: mixed income, mixed demographic. There is a saying that ‘hurt people hurt people,’ and if you put 59 people who are complex and hurting, it will negatively affect the people who are trying to get better in that housing, as well as the surrounding community, and that is why I’m not in support of it.”
Daniel Lee is a pharmacist and small business owner who ran in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections as a Conservative Party candidate for Willowdale; in both elections, he placed second. Lee’s platform focuses significantly on his will to “keep traffic moving” — he opposes the lane reductions proposed by the city’s RapidTO, Transform Yonge, and cycle network plans, and the installation of automated speed enforcement cameras on arterial roads. He says he will end the ActiveTO Complete Street pilot. He also expresses a commitment to keep taxes low, and citing the $1.5 million value of the average Willowdale home, proposes raising the threshold for the seniors’ property tax relief program so that more Willowdale seniors can qualify. He wants to transfer the responsibility of funding the Fair Pass transit discount program to the provincial government, and the development and operation of local shelter space for refugees to the federal government, citing a strain on taxpayers.
Markus O'Brien Fehr
Markus O’Brien Fehr has been a city hall aide to incumbent John Fillion for the past decade and has his endorsement to take over the Ward 18 seat. O’Brien Fehr previously worked as the Liberal campaign manager for the Toronto riding of Willowdale. His platform is centred around affordable living, including an increase in housing, community services, and recreational areas. He supports a pedestrian-friendly revitalization of Yonge Street, and emphasizes the need for improvements to road safety, infrastructure, and design. O’Brien Fehr also wants to advocate for permanent transit funding from the provincial government. He has been endorsed by Mayor John Tory.
Information about this candidate could not be found at time of publication.
School Trustee Candidates
Alexander Brown - Incumbent
Alexander Brown has been the TDSB trustee for Ward 12 since 2014. He was elected Chair of the Toronto District School Board in 2020. In 2022, two weeks before the provincial election, Brown spoke publicly on behalf of the board, advocating for reimbursement and increased funding from the provincial government to make up for the “massive deficit” incurred as a result of the board having to allocate so much of its funds to keep students safe against COVID-19.
While there is limited information online regarding Pancer’s professional background and campaign, he previously ran in the 2018 municipal elections for Ward 8 (Eglinton and Lawrence) where he finished 9th at 134 votes.
In an email to The Local, Pancer claimed he had a naturopathic cure for cancer, and that he was running to share this information with the public.
Weidong Pei describes his current role as owner and principal dentist of Lansing Dental Centre, instructor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry, and a father of two. He is interested in developing an action plan to increasing school safety, creating more classrooms to address overcrowding, and promoting healthier schools by improving air-filtration and mental health counselling for students and staff. Pei also wants to improve the service wait times for children with special needs, and improve STEM-related curricula by including realistic case studies for problem solving, such as those regarding climate change and green energy.
According to his website, Gianfranco Cristiano is an active community member with over 22 years of customer service experience. He previously ran for Ward 5 TCDSB trustee in 2018, placing second out of five. As part of his campaign, Cristiano wants to preserve international languages programs, address the lack of school bus drivers, and create a program to address poor Maths and English Testing results. He also says he will advocate for smaller classrooms, increase teachers and staff, and fight for funding for outdoor play spaces and special education. Cristiano has been endorsed by the Toronto & York Region Labour Council.
Phil Hornak has previously participated in the parent council for Loretto Abbey Secondary School, and has authored a letter that criticized of a number of issues within the TCDSB, including the board’s communication with parents, trustees’ conduct on social media, and what he claimed was a lack of accountability and integrity standards around trustee conduct, though he did not list any specific examples. In 2018, Hornak ran for TCDSB trustee in Ward 6, placing third out of three candidates.
Information about this candidate could not be found at time of publication.
Maria Rizzo - Incumbent
Maria Rizzo has been the TCDSB trustee for Ward 5, first elected in 2003. She was elected as a North York Board of Education trustee in 1982 and a North York city councillor in 1991, serving two terms. At different times during her tenure as trustee, she served as chair and vice-chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board. In 2011, as chair, she helped propel the board’s Equity and Inclusion Education policy and in 2019, she was a vocal supporter of a motion to include the terms ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ in the board’s code of conduct.
Benoit Fortin - Incumbent
Benoit Fortin is the incumbent trustee for Conseil scolaire Viamonde Ward 2 – Est. He has held office since 2018, and has been elected by acclamation in this year’s election given he was running unopposed. Fortin is the founding member and Vice President of Development in Africa and India of Skypower, which develops, funds and runs utility-scale renewable power projects internationally. He is also vice-president of the Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’Ontario board of directors, which represents all French-language public school boards in the province. While there is limited information about his priorities, Fortin has commented publicly as vice-president of the board on the importance of keeping students in the francophone school system until grade 12 and of meeting the specific needs of a growing francophone community following an announcement of funding from the Ontario government to build a new school.
Nathalie Dufour Séguin - Incumbent
Nathalie Dufour Séguin is the incumbent trustee for MonAvenir Ward 3 – Toronto Ouest and has been re-elected by acclamation for the 2022 term as she is running unopposed. She was first elected trustee by ballot vote in 2006 and received acclamation in 2010. In 2014, she decided to step down to pursue other projects and was re-elected by ballot vote in 2018. Outside of the TCDSB, Dufour Séguin is an Education Community Relationship Manager for Groupe Média TFO, a media company that generates educational and cultural content for the Ontario Francophone community. She is also a former board member and former president of Toronto Francophone Women’s Shelter La Maison d’hébergement francophone de Toronto.
Dufour Séguin is on the MonAvenir School Council, having originally joined in 2006 when she became trustee (when the school was named Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud). After serving as vice president for two years, she was elected president in 2012, a role she held until 2014. In 2013, under Dufour Séguin’s leadership, the school council launched a discrimination action against the province as a means of forcing the Ministry of Education to replace one of their Hamilton-based schools with a new, larger building for the expanded student population. An issue Dufour Séguin said people have been advocating for since the 1990’s, the council invoked charter rights by arguing the Francophone school was not being resourced adequately and therefore access to education was not equal to those in Anglophone schools.
Clarification: October 14 – Lily Cheng’s biography has been updated to include a direct quote describing her stance on supportive housing units being built at 175 Cummer Avenue.
Information in Candidate Tracker was compiled and written by The Local’s team of journalists and fact checkers. City council candidates were emailed a questionnaire asking for information about their history, experience, and plans. They were also surveyed about their stances on twelve key votes that took place in the 2018-22 council term. Not all candidates were reachable or responded. The Local also conducted its own research to independently source and verify information about each city council and school trustee candidate. If you’re a candidate whose information is not here, please email us at email@example.com. Last updated: October 15, 2022.
Contributors: Inori Roy, Ann Marie Elpa, Nikky Manfredi, Danielle Orr, H.G. Watson, Emma Buchanan, Dhriti Gupta, Zeahaa Rehman, Neville Park, Nicholas Hune-Brown, Tai Huynh, Craig Madho, Steve Combes, and Lia Mattacchione.
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