Born to a returning serviceman and his English war bride, Jim Tovey grew up in Malton with five siblings in a 750-square-foot house where he acquired two useful characteristics: a thick skin and a sense of humor.
Reflecting on his childhood, Tovey describes himself as the hyperactive one. “In summer I got shipped off to the Ottawa Valley to stay at my uncle’s farm. I had my own rifle, and I could drive his pickup truck; I loved it. And when they came for me on Labour Day, I’d hide!”
One event Tovey doesn’t mention occurred when he was nine: he endured a swimming accident that nearly killed him and left him with permanent nerve damage, making his hands shake to this day. It is revealing of his determination that he chose his high school for its commercial art program.
A love of music, writing songs and singing led Tovey to become lead singer of Hott Roxx, a rock band that toured from Toronto to Vancouver. Their 10-year-run on the roadhouse trail ended one night in Thunder Bay, when the apartment over the stage was dynamited, sending the ceiling, roof and flames down onto their gear below.
“Back in Toronto, my dad called to say he’d heard they had music critics in Thunder Bay.” Tovey looked at his wife Lee (an accomplished dance teacher) and their four-year-old son, and changed his life.
The Next Path
Tovey had always enjoyed working with wood and decided to become a licensed carpenter. He took a series of courses and apprenticeships at George Brown College that ultimately led to him becoming a site supervisor for restoration projects in Toronto.
“Then in 1989, we researched properties close to the lake and landed on Lakeview because they actually had the money in place to build what they were promising: Lakeside Promenade Park.” their new neighbourhood had an ugly landmark though—the Lakeview Generating station, a coal-fired electrical power plant.
“I started looking into the ingredients in the smokestack emissions—the pollution and chemicals in particular—and that’s what got me started as a community advocate.”
Lakeview without a Power Plant?
In 1994 during a moonlit dog walk around the power plant, Tovey envisaged how the enormous site could be used. Years later, working with his neighbourhood friend, John Danahy, Co-Director at the Centre for Landscape Research at the University of Toronto, they used Google Earth and architecture software to create a scaled visual plan based on what they heard around kitchen tables, listening to suggestions about what should comprise a benchmark urban community.
First the Lakeview Ratepayers’ association (LRA) had to get the provincial government to shut down the Lakeview smokestacks. The growing popularity of environmental responsibility led to the beginning of the end for coal burning in Ontario, and opened the path to demolition for the Lakeview coal plant in 2005.
But there could be no relaxing; the Liberal government was planning to use the same site for a new natural gas fired electricity generating station. The Lakeview Ratepayers’ association, led by their president Jim Tovey, sought to see the lake in Lakeview. Tovey vowed to keep the conversation civil and advocated for the health of their children.
“I remember having these meetings with George Smitherman (Deputy Premier of Ontario and Minister of
Energy and Infrastructure) and John Gerretsen (Minister of the Environment) and they would listen to my pollution stories and then say—‘Yeah, we need to put in a power plant.’” He gives his head a shake. “You can’t get mad.”
Community Planning by the Community
In February 2008, Tovey and the LRA took the completed concept of the Lakeview Legacy project to Mississauga City Council and received a unanimous endorsement and request that the Province nix Lakeview as the site for a 900-megawatt gas generation facility. In July, Minister Smitherman responded, stating that “Lakeview’s future in power generation is over” and he went on to add that Ontario was committed to making Lakeview “The model for Smart Growth in the Province.”
In 2009, the Lakeview Ratepayers’ association won two national urban planning awards, including a Design
Exchange award, for its Lakeview Legacy Project. Then Tovey was named Citizen of the Year in Mississauga, an honour he accepted on behalf of his community. “I just rode the wave,” he adds.
Running for Council
In October 2010, feeling a sense of urgency about the implementation of the Lakeview vision, Jim Tovey ran for Councillor in Ward 1 and narrowly beat the veteran incumbent thanks to his energetic campaign. Six months later, Tovey worked with Charles Sousa, MPP for Mississauga south, to write a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by the Province of Ontario, the City of Mississauga and principal landowner Ontario Power Generation, which commits them to work together on a shared vision for the Lakeview lands that will benefit the community.
Personal energy has always been an asset for Tovey and he will continue to need it. Major infill projects are coming forward along Lakeshore Road in Ward 1.
One such proposal, from Trinity Developments, seeks to redevelop the former Inglis factory site at 501 Lakeshore Road East into the District at Lakeview. This mixed-use project is promising and will provide places to shop, work and live, combining ground-level stores, services and caf?s with professional offices above them, all surrounding a smallish department store with nearby townhouses and condominiums. Trinity promises to transform approximately one-third of the site (or 4.7 acres) from asphalt into greenspace. There are 440 permanent jobs and 1,000 construction jobs in the offing and the likelihood of increased traffic improving the lot of adjacent businesses is also real, but so is the threat of its competition.
Tovey stands squarely against the project. For the Councillor, it’s simple: “I can’t back it. The community has spent six years developing a master plan for revitalizing their community (Lakeview) and then you assign some of the necessary densities for that project to the new Trinity plan for 501 Lakeshore? If you can do that and do no harm to the community’s vision, then I’m OK with it.”
The master plan for the Lakeview lands will soon be complete and once it is, the Councillor expects developers and the provincial government to embrace the next steps toward a 20-year process of development for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But does an ingenious redevelopment plan like the Trinity proposal have to change or be scrapped to preserve the possibilities for Lakeview? For the Councillor, the answer is yes. For some concerned with the prosperity of the entire area, including the Lakeview lands, it is the uncertainty of future private investments that makes dismissing the Trinity proposal so hard to accept. But Jim Tovey says with a smile: “It’s just one file.”
Looking ahead, the increasing population and economic activity in Ward 1 will both enable and challenge the flexibility of this determined leader.
For information on the proposed project, visit www.trinity-group.com/?q=node/481.