Sarah Thomson, smiling in front of a food truck. Photo via her campaign.
September's finally rolled around, which means that there's just over a month and a half to go before Toronto hits the polls and either re-elects or boots out Rob Ford from the mayor's office.
There's been no shortage of interesting candidates who want to take over Toronto's top job, like the guy who played saxophone on “Spadina Bus,” or the candidate whose main platform is to increase taxes. I talked to the white supremacist candidate earlier this year, so I figured I'd swing to the other side of the spectrum and talk to Liberal candidate Sarah Thomson.
Sarah Thomson, who also ran in the 2010 election that brought Rob Ford into office, can hold her own in the race when it comes to personality and antics. She's the only mayoral candidate in recent memory to wear her hair in dreadlocks, and she's made the news over the past two weeks for pledging free Viagra for low-income senior citizens. She also made a ridiculous, parody music video about public transit (a trend that started in 2008 with Toronto rappers Randal Paul and Syruslife who released a parody of Young Jeezy’s “I Put On” called “I Get on the TTC”).
Anyway, I met with Sarah Thomson in a downtown Toronto coffee shop to talk about her policies, riding horses, and what she thinks of people who don't approve of her look.
VICE: Since the beginning of your campaign, you said you want to “keep it real.” How are you “keeping it real?”
Sarah Thomson: I ran for mayor in 2010, and I had a team that said, “Oh, make your hair this way, wear these dresses,” you know? And they changed who I was. I was lacking that authenticity of who I really am. And so I spent four years since 2010 working as an activist, working as an advocate for transit. I've been, you know, on committees, and doing all sorts of things to try and figure out a way to fix the city. And what I discovered was there's a thousand different little tweaks in process that need to be done. As a transit activist, I've met with transit experts from all over the world. And they've all said, “Look, you need that downtown relief subway line.” So how do you keep it real around that, right? It's a $10 billion plan. Where are we going to get the funds for that? So keeping it real is all about addressing the real issues, which are a shortfall of money, and coming up with real solutions.
What do you think sets you apart from the other candidates running for mayor?
Personality? I just find they're really beige, don't you? I mean, have they come out and stood for anything? See, I've had to do that. Like, I came out for that Viagra thing…
Yeah, about that—how do you plan on paying for it, and of all things, why Viagra? Because in Mexico City, where the idea came from, only about 100 seniors went and took advantage of it.
I have five policies. I'm out there having to figure out a way: “How do I talk about martial arts for police? How do I get that policy out?” Off-peak transit for seniors. Having a car-free ride day that winds through every community and shows off their best street. Play streets where we put the pedestrian first. As a mother, that's really important to me, My kids are 9 and 10, and I'm worried every day when they're out there on their bikes. I wanted to get those four ideas out, yet I wasn't getting any coverage in the press, because in this election, the press aren’t trying to push anyone who isn't one of the top three. It's all about stopping Rob Ford, and not about saying, “Well, have we picked the right candidate here?”
So the Viagra was a way to get attention on them but also a way to make people think, “What makes you happy?” What makes us happy as a society? We've got to, as a city, start making that a priority, and that's what that whole launch was about, making happiness a priority, you know? I wanted to get the four issues out, and the Viagra was a way to get the press to go off of Ford for a day and cover a policy.
Who doesn't want free Viagra, right? via Flickr user loauc.
So would you actually implement the Viagra or is it just a weird stunt?
You know what, if people wanted it, then yes. And how do we pay for it? Simple, we enact the congestion charge [which would charge cars from outside of Toronto $5 for entering the city]. But why did I mention the Viagra? Because I wanted people to think about how to make the city a happier city. So you think, “Okay, oh my gosh, we mentioned Viagra and the sex issue.” And we are such a, I almost want to say, a Protestant-based town-mentality. We've got to start thinking like an international city, where people are like, “Yeah, you know what, people do have sex. What's wrong with talking about it?” It's not a scary issue. It's a real issue. “Keeping it real” again. And Viagra is a beacon to talk about what makes us happy as individuals, and how can we make our city a happier city.
Happy is good. There's a press release on your website that said you're polling roughly 15 to 18 percent. But, the Toronto Star reported that you're polling closer to two percent and Metro quoted a politics professor saying your poll was not at all credible. What do you have to say to that?
It was an internal poll, first of all. So it wasn't made to be a poll that was to be publicized. Campaigns do polling to get the message out. So if a lot of people don't know your name, they don't know what you stand for, you do a poll and you say, “Look, Sarah Thomson stands for building the downtown relief line. Sarah Thomson stands for free transit for seniors and students, and this is how Sarah Thomson is going to pay for it. Do you agree with this or not agree with this?” So it showed us that when people know about my platform, they like it and they want to support it. When Metro News talked to me, I said, “Look, I can give you an internal poll we've got, but we're doing another poll, we're looking for one of the major companies to do a poll for us. So I'd rather you use that because it's going to be more of a legitimate poll, right?”
The poll we were going to do got held back a day, so they decided to publish it. So it was one of those things where it was like, “Urgh why would you publish a poll when I've told you, look, it's a push poll, it's all about my platform. It's not an authentic poll.” But they took this and sold it as if it were an authentic poll.
Ah I see. So, there's been a lot of talk this election cycle about addiciton. Do you think Rob Ford can beat his demons?
Treatment takes a year to two years, not a month. It's a joke, everyone knows it's a joke, right? I think he could get to the point where he understands his sickness and knows how to cope with it. He's not there, right? I know this sounds bizarre, I don't hate Rob at all. I look at Rob and I think, “He's got a sickness.” I feel for him. I was on the campaign trail with him. I saw him every day, and you get to know someone. He's surprisingly stubborn. He can stay on message like nobody else, right?
He really, really, really does want to help people, but he honestly in his heart knows he doesn't know how to lead. So when he gets to that position, the fact that he knows he can't lead eats away at him. And that then causes him to think: “Ah, have a drink, I'll feel better.” I think our city could drive the poor man to go back to alcohol and drugs. And if he doesn't have that support around him, who knows? Will we find him in a ditch somewhere, you know? That worries me, and I think our city wants to use him and that bothers me.
Yes. Now on to the horses, I guess. When you registered to run for mayor this time around, you showed up in a horse-drawn carriage. You also showed up at Ford Fest on a horse. Why horses?
I'm a transit activist. If you look at the history of Toronto, how did our transportation start out? Horse-drawn carriages and wagons. So the issue I was launching on was, “Look. Transit. We either invest in transit, or we might as well go by horse because it's going to be faster to go by horse than it will be to drive a car.” I was trying to shine a spotlight on the issue of transit and why it's so important we invest in transit. And that's what the horse is all about.
Sarah Thomson on her famous horse.
Do you have any plans to appear or horses in the future?
You say the other candidates are kind of "beige." On the flip side, people say that sometimes you're a bit too enthusiastic. Robyn Doolittle has described you as “a bit loopy.” How do you feel about that?
I think Robyn Doolittle tends to be a conservative at heart, and she would like everyone to have perfect hair and dress perfectly and hasn't learned enough to know that people have their own personalities. Some people are more energetic, and I get that a lot. But true leaders don't really care so much about Keeping Up With the Joneses. I don't worry about what people think of me, I look and I worry about, “How can I help that person to make this city better?” 'Cause I have a debt to pay. I did very, very well in business, I am very happy, I have a fantastic husband. I feel like I've got to give something back. So if Robyn Doolittle wants to make fun of the way I look or the way I am, I let her, and I see a weakness in her, and I understand it. And I hope she'll get over it and she'll do something significant with her life so that, you know, so that she can experience what it's like to actually give back.
To actually help people is so much more rewarding than just sniping and gossiping about people. You know? So that's kind of how I feel about people like that. I feel a little bit sorry for them, 'cause I think, “You've got to snipe and gossip and do that?” Really, that shows an insecurity within yourself, right? So I always try to say, “Okay.” Every time I see her, I give her a hug, and you know, it's like, “Hi, whatever, you can say the meanest words about me and I'll still hug ya,” because to me, that's silliness, it's just immaturity.
Have you seen the other VICE article about you where the author says you make her uncomfortable?
[nods] I saw people come to my defence and I went, “Yes!”
One of the article's main points is about your dreads and how dreads are very important in the Rasta culture…
They actually come before Rasta culture. There's an older heritage than that. You know what I found beautiful? Is that somebody mentioned that article to me when I was at Gay Pride. Gay Pride, you can dress any way you want and you have a right to be whatever you want to dress like, whatever you want to look like. And that's what I want my city to be, right? So when you have these prissy people saying, “Oh, you can't wear your hair like that,” or “You can't dress like that,” or “You can't act like that,” I say, “Shut up girl, really?” You know? 'Cause this is Toronto. We can be whoever we want to be, and I hope to defend that right forever. I just think if we have people trying to take away that right to dress and look the way you want to dress and look, that's scary to me.
If somebody came up to you and asked: “Why should I vote for you?” What would you say?
I've got energy, tenacity, and I'm the only candidate who's donated my life for the last four years towards pushing transit through. I got the downtown relief line on the plans for TTC, I still have more work to do. So please elect me because I will roll up my sleeves and get to work. I'm not somebody who has committee after committee and doesn't know how to get down to work. I'm a real person, and I'm committed to making Toronto a better place for my children, and for your children. And it's not about a career in politics, it's about getting the work done. Right now Toronto needs somebody. A fixer. And I'm a fixer.