After 12 years at city hall, most of them leading Toronto council’s response to the crushing housing crisis, Ana Bailão is ready to leave politics.
In an exclusive interview with the Star, Bailão said she plans to continue as Ward 9 (Davenport) councillor until the term ends later this year, but will not seek re-election on Oct. 24.
The departure of the city’s highly respected housing advocate adds to the likelihood of a big council shakeup this fall. Departing veterans are opening up council races with no incumbents, guaranteeing fresh blood in a chamber that has seen many politicians serve for multiple decades.
Mayor John Tory, who is seeking re-election, told the Star he has no idea who will fill Bailão’s shoes on the critical housing file, noting it may be somebody who is still months away from being elected to council.
Bailão said she started thinking about her future over the winter break and made a final decision during time off this spring. It comes down to feeling that it’s time for a change and a new live-work balance, she said.
“I did all my writing and my meditation and was like, ‘Yeah, this is what feels right, what my heart is telling me,’” she said, adding she has nothing lined up but hopes to put her knowledge about affordable housing to use.
“I’ve been here three terms and, for me, politics is always a means to make change. It’s not about the position — it’s about the work that I do.”
Joe Cressy recently resigned his Ward 10 (Spadina—Fort York) seat to take a senior position at George Brown College. Kristyn Wong-Tam quit Ward 13 (Toronto Centre) to run for the NDP in the June 2 Ontario election.
Coun. Michael Ford plans to quit his Ward 1 (Etobicoke North) seat if elected Progressive Conservative MPP in York South—Weston. If not, he has left the door open to a council re-election bid.
Eleven of 25 current councillors have registered their re-election bids, leaving the possibility that others will follow Bailão out the door.
Bailão arrived in Canada from Portugal at age 15 speaking little English.
Before being elected to council in 2010, she cleaned offices in downtown towers, went to university, was an assistant to then councillor Mario Silva, lost a council race in 2003 and worked in banking.
During her first term at city hall, she was among centrist councillors who helped curtail deep service cuts sought by then mayor Rob Ford.
After re-election in 2014, when she replaced then councillor Giorgio Mammoliti as council’s housing advocate, “we couldn’t get a headline” published about the housing crisis, Bailão said.
Today, every candidate in every election is getting an earful from voters.
“If you want to have a healthy city, you need people to be able to afford a home, you need to have mixed-income communities,” Bailão said.
Asked about progress since she became housing advocate, Bailão cites the city’s $23.4-billion, 10-year housing plan to 2030 that considers housing a human right.
The city is making progress identifying sources for its funding while pressing the provincial and federal governments to step up, she said.
The pandemic and its impact on homeless Torontonians has spurred the city to accelerate construction of modular housing —prefabricated units that can quickly provide a first safe, stable home for people living on the streets or in shelters or in parks.
As for disappointments, Bailão cites city council last fall delaying, until at least next term, debate on rules that would have legalized and regulated rooming houses citywide. In a rare split with Tory, she voted against his successful motion to kick the proposal back to staff rather than risk seeing a majority of councillors kill the proposal.
“We had done good work,” she said, addressing concerns about garbage, parking and other issues raised about multi-tenant, short-term housing, which exists across Toronto but in some areas operates covertly with unsafe conditions for tenants.
Such opposition, she said, is “very often frustrating because you know the importance of having this kind of housing available — that’s how you give dignity to people. That’s how you give opportunity.”
Bailão said her successor will have to keep pushing the Ontario government to match the dedication of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in helping to fund housing solutions in Toronto.
Asked what she’ll do her first day after leaving city hall, Bailão said she dreams of a lunch with extended family “knowing that I have nothing else to do for the afternoon … I’m really looking forward to that.”
She also knows that, despite her efforts, the housing crisis has only worsened over the past 12 years. People who oppose housing for low-income residents need to realize that “you never know when one of our family members, one of our friends, is going to need that support,” Bailão said.
Tory, who made Bailão one of his ceremonial deputy mayors, called her decision to leave “a big disappointment.”
“I wish she was staying but she’s going to go off and do something and will be great at it,” the mayor said, praising her knowledge of the intricacies of complicated agreements.
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider