Why We Named A Street After Howard Moscoe – Ward 33 E-Blast September 7th

Why we named a street after a guy you might still bump into on a subway, Howard Moscoe!

On Wednesday, North York Community Council met for the first time since early June. Community Council is where we deal with the final details of local planning matters and area-specific disputes and appeals. Trees, fences, local traffic.

We made a decision back in 2004 to call this local body the “North York” community council, even though some of the 11 councillors who make up the group represent parts of the other legacy cities of East York, City of York and Toronto. We meet in the chambers built by Mel Lastman’s town council. It’s not an opulent chamber, by any measure, but it is a hallowed space because of the many lively and hilarious debates that happened there between two of North York’s, best boosters, Mayor Mel Lastman and Councillor Howard Moscoe.

When we met earlier this week my colleague, Councillor Anthony Perruzza, brought a motion to name a short access street around the new subway station at York University “Howard Moscoe Way”. Due to illnesses, Councillors Shiner and Augimeri were away, so a majority of members present were younger councillors that represent some of those other areas. Most had never worked directly with Councillor Moscoe. There was certainly some discussion but the motion passed handily. Even newer councillors know his far-reaching influence in municipal halls.

Nowadays we have strict policies about the naming of streets. History needs to be honoured, sometimes ancient, sometimes recent. Wherever possible, attempts should be made to honour indigenous origins of an area. We don’t want to leave the naming up to developers, as was once the practice, and we definitely don’t want to name everything after politicians, living or dead. For Howard Moscoe, still very much alive and making mischief, it was important to make an exception.

Upon his retirement, the Globe and Mail dubbed Moscoe “A merry prankster who made a difference”.

While we debated whether or not to name a street after a living politician, the best example for making an exception sat right outside our chamber. Mel Lastman Square sits in front of the North York Civic Centre because Councillor Howard Moscoe moved a motion proposing it in 1986. The two men were political polar opposites. Mayor Lastman was often infuriated with Howard’s constant attention to detail and many procedural moves and occasionally conspired to remove him from committee posts. Howard famously purchased Lastman’s toupee at the Hadassah Bazaar after the Mayor’s hair transplant and used it to dust off his council seat. But, when it came time to acknowledge that Mayor Lastman had given us the new North York civic centre, the new North York downtown plan and the subway expansion that all brought North York into the future, it was Howard who moved that the Square needed to be named after a Mayor, both living and still in office.

Mel and Howard drop their political rivalry to run for cancer research.

In this age of political partisanship, it is important to acknowledge that when the best things happened in North York it was when partisanship was set aside. Howard was a controversial and fierce chair of the TTC, first while serving as a Metro Councillor and later under Mayor David Miller. He had begun speaking out for all three governments to fund both capital and operating costs of our transit system back in 1979. He made the case to every new councillor who was elected to advocate for the same thing, no matter what their politics.

Howard knew that the north west end of North York and North Etobicoke badly needed transit connection. He also knew that the massive number of buses choking York University were holding the campus back. He dedicated himself to solving this with dogged persistence. What is different about Howard’s approach is that throughout the process of getting a solution for the area, he was willing to look at every possible solution and to work with councillors, MPs and MPPs of all stripes over multiple terms in office. At one point he even thoroughly considered a bus-rapid-transit line through a Hydro corridor while others had the usual knee-jerk political reaction to anything other than a subway. By the time our share of the federal gas tax was negotiated, largely due to Howard’s advocacy, the ridership studies and growth of York University warranted a subway.

As often happens, the areas around the new Toronto-York Spadina subway and on the York campus have already begun to benefit from transit investment even before it is ready to open. While the base TTC system we ride today is still underfunded, it shares in the federal and provincial gas taxes that Howard began speaking out about almost 40 years ago. The transit system and wheeltrans system we ride today would be lost without it. Whenever we travel on Howard Moscoe Way, let’s remember all the benefits Howard has made possible.