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Q&A: Nick Kouvalis, the kingmaker behind both Rob Ford and John Tory’s mayoral wins

(Image: Claire Foster)

(Image: Claire Foster)

If you’re planning on becoming mayor of Toronto at some point, you might want to call up Nick Kouvalis. As an architect of Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign in 2010, he took a city councillor best known as a right-wing loner with occasional anger problems and turned him into a viable candidate. Kouvalis was a core player in the Ford administration until early 2011, when, after a falling out, he left his post as the new mayor’s chief of staff and returned to his private political consultancy, Campaign Research. The break with the Fords became more apparent last year, when Kouvalis switched allegiances, taking on the role of John Tory’s chief political strategist—a job where his main duty was to engineer Doug Ford’s eventual defeat in the 2014 mayoral election. Kouvalis has been called a “Ford whisperer,” a “campaign wizard” and a “dirty trickster.” Whatever the case, he has a winning record and a knack for explaining the minutiae of elections.

How did you go from being a naval reservist to being a political strategist?
I grew up in Windsor and I got a job in a factory. I wanted to be a toolmaker. So when I got married, I was working at Chrysler and also doing the naval reserve stuff. I didn’t like my job, and I got invited to volunteer on a political campaign. I worked for Belinda Stronach when she ran for leader of the federal Conservative party, and that was interesting. I liked it. Then I ran a campaign in Essex county for the Conservatives, and we won, and we hadn’t won in 46 years. So then I figured, not only do I like this, I’m obviously pretty good at it. So I started thinking about making it into a business.

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Events

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Check out Austra’s thrilling, trilling pop operatics

(Image: Matt Lambert)

(Image: Matt Lambert)

No one sounds quite like Austra. The Toronto synth-pop trio has cultivated an innovative sound that blends theatrical vocals with danceable electronica. On their Polaris-shortlisted 2011 album, Feel It Break, and its 2013 successor, Olympia, the band throws disparate sounds together to create a catchy, body-moving end product: there’s Afrobeat percussion, analog synthesizers and blaring horn sections, all anchored by the powerfully trilling voice of lead singer Katie Stelmanis, who trained with the Toronto Children’s Opera Company. Austra’s live shows sound like an opera and a Nine Inch Nails gig wrapped into one—only a whole lot more fun. The group takes the Opera House stage this Friday alongside Montreal glitch-pop duo Blue Hawaii, local solo songstress Petra Glynt and a Chinese opera troupe from Markham’s Soong Kam Wing Music and Arts Centre (only at an Austra gig).

Fri. Dec. 19. $21. Opera House, 735 Queen St. E., 416-466-0313, ticketweb.ca.

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Five festive reasons to put down your devices and get out into the city

Torontonians can be pretty tied to their devices. Even when with friends and family, it can be hard to resist the urge to check for the latest update. This season, TELUS is encouraging people to get into #HolidayMode – that is, to step away from their phones, tablets and laptops to enjoy some low-tech fun and quality face time with their loved ones. For Torontonians looking to join in on the digital detox, here are five festive ways to enjoy the city with those who matter most.

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The Informer

Real Estate

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House of the Week: $2.9 million for a heritage Annex home with a decidedly un-heritage interior

House of the Week: $2.9 million for an Annex heritage home with a decidedly un-heritage interior

Address: 41 Boswell Avenue
Neighbourhood: Annex
Agent: Isabel Beveridge and Daniel Lynch, Royal LePage/J & D Division, Brokerage
Price: $2,875,000

The Place: A three-bedroom Annex home that’s business in the front, party in the back.

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Foreign investment may not be as big a factor in Toronto’s condo market as we all thought it was

2.7%

—The percentage of Toronto condos that are owned by foreign investors, according to a new report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The actual rate of foreign ownership has long been assumed to be much higher, though, and it’s not clear how accurate this new number actually is. The CMHC didn’t use hard data—which, for this type of thing, is difficult to come by. Instead, the agency polled a representative sample of building owners and managers.

The Informer

Events

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Relive the entire Harry Potter saga in just 70 minutes

potted-potter-best-bet

Harry Potter’s popularity is as durable as a lightning-shaped scar. Two actor-writers have cashed in on the perma-fandom by stuffing all seven volumes of the series into Potted Potter, an “unauthorized” 70-minute comedy act. The performers are Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, who are —known in the U.K. as Dan and Jeff. They’re —a vaudevillian pair of former BBC kid-show hosts who began messing around with J.K. Rowling’’s wizarding epic as a piece of satirical street theatre. The resulting stage show has toured the world, and is now returning to Toronto for a month-long run. Turner, in a pair of fat-rimmed Warby Parkers, is an exaggeratedly earnest Harry, while the stringbean Clarkson races around the stage as every other character. It’’s a tart, zany take on the wizarding world, without the time commitment.

Dec. 17 to Jan 11. $29.95––$99.95. Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St., 416-872-1212, mirvish.com.

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Real Estate

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Tower of Power: who lives where at One Bedford, the new downtown address of choice for uptown potentates

Tower of Power: who lives where at One Bedford, the new downtown address of choice for uptown potentates

(Photographs: Tower by Daniel Neuhaus; Bata, Peaches, Stronach, Hackett, Govani, MacMillan by Getty Images; Jackman courtesy of Province of Ontario; Wente courtesy of the Globe and Mail; Kuwabara by Newswire; McEwan courtesy of Smashing Pictures; Broadbent courtesy of Eventi; Tory by Markian Lozowchuk; Oundjian courtesy of Arts Atlanta)

In the three years since it was completed, One Bedford, the 32-storey monolith above, has become de facto HQ for tastemakers in business, media, arts and politics. Chalk it up to its location at the nexus of three high-rent neighbourhoods, which allows residents to self-identify as posh Yorkvillers, U of T brainiacs or quinoa-munching Annexers as needed. One of the latest big-name tenants to join the party is the mayor. Here’s who he calls neighbour.

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People

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Uber Toronto general manager Ian Black on why the city hates his company, and why John Tory doesn’t

Q&A: Ian BlackEveryone has heard of Uber, but not everyone’s sure what it is. Help us out.
It’s a smartphone app: click a button and a car arrives within minutes. The options are regular taxi, black-car service or UberX, which is a fleet of cars owned and driven by regular people.

Is it just me, or does UberX sound like the start of a slasher flick?
Not at all. We do a criminal background check, which includes sexual offences, with zero tolerance for any lifetime viol­ation. For DUIs, we won’t hire anyone with an offence, ever; some of the mainstream brokerages only go back five years, so we think ours is a safer platform. In fact, drivers from mainstream brokerages recently applied to be UberX drivers and they failed our checks.

Has UberX Toronto received any complaints of assault?
No. But if we did, we would respond within the hour, if not within minutes.

What percentage of your UberX drivers are male?
About 90 to 95 per cent—higher than we’d like it to be.

You don’t have kids, but if you did, would you let your 17-year-old daughter take UberX?
Not only that, but I’d encourage her to be a driver as soon as she was 21.

If my UberX driver gets in a car accident and mangles my leg, who do I sue?
If you sue the driver, he’ll be covered under his personal insurance. If that maxes out or doesn’t cover the driver, our $5-million policy kicks in.

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Real Estate

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Sale of the Week: the $1.3-million reno that proves Parkdale isn’t gentrification-proof

toronto-sale-of-the-week-39-gwynne-avenue-intro

Address: 39 Gwynne Avenue
Neighbourhood: Parkdale
Agent: Howard Esakov, Re/Max Realtron Realty Inc., Brokerage and Michael Gauer, Royal LePage Your Community Realty, Brokerage

The Property: This completely renovated, four-bedroom detached home has contemporary finishes throughout, a modern kitchen with custom counters and a third-floor master bedroom with an en suite. The self-contained basement suite shares the rest of the home’s modern aesthetic, but has its own entrances.

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People

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Q&A: Mike McCormack, Toronto cops’ biggest defender

(Image: Claire Foster)

(Image: Claire Foster)

Mike McCormack is the head of the Toronto Police Association, the labour union that represents over 8,000 civilian and uniformed employees of the Toronto Police Service. The son of a former Toronto police chief, he comes by his cop credentials honestly, but his pugnacious personality and his history of run-ins with the force’s brass (in 2009, he was found guilty of insubordination) make him a controversial figure. Currently, he’s best known for demanding the resignation of Alok Mukherjee, the chair of the Toronto Police Service’s civilian oversight board, after Mukherjee posted a not-all-that-inflammatory meme to his personal Facebook wall. We caught up with McCormack to talk budgets, police reputation and The Wire.

Pretty much your entire family is in policing. How did that happen?

It’s genetics, I guess. My father’s father was involved in policing, and my mother’s father was involved in the OPP back in the day with the anti-racketeering stuff. It’s been part of our family culture forever.

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Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti gets a court fine for breaking campaign-finance laws

$17,500

—The fine levied on councillor Giorgio Mammoliti after he pleaded guilty, this morning, to four campaign-finance offences he committed during the 2010 election. This is considered light punishment (removal from office was a possible penalty), and it isn’t the first time Mammoliti’s behaviour has cost him money. In July, city council docked his pay for 90 days after he improperly accepted donations from lobbyists.

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Real Estate

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Condo of the Week: $330,000 for a design-friendly loft in Briar Hill

toronto-condo-of-the-week-550-hopewell-avenue-intro

Address: 550 Hopewell Avenue, Unit 212
Neighbourhood: Yorkdale-Glen Park
Agent: David Fraser, Metropolitan Commercial Realty, Inc., Brokerage
Price: $334,900

The Place: A swinging bachelor or bachelorette loft space in the Briar Hill area.

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The Informer

Columns

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A $27 train ride to the airport won’t ruin Toronto—but delaying building the transit we actually need will

metrolinx-up-express

The Union Pearson Express on its way towards the airport for premier Kathleen Wynne’s December 10 unveiling. (Image: Metrolinx.)

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what Metrolinx charges people to ride the Union Pearson Express, Toronto’s soon-to-be-completed train to the airport. If, as announced yesterday to a chorus of groans, it’s $27.50 one way (or $19 with a Presto card), and riders pay it, great. If they don’t, then the line will run a deficit for a while and maybe, eventually, shut down—and then airport users will be able to fall back on any of half a dozen other transit options, including the TTC, which runs an express bus to Pearson from Kipling Station that anybody can ride for $3.

It’s not the price of a ticket that Toronto should be grumbling about: it’s the fact that a luxury like the UP Express is even real. Somehow, the major transit project we need the least also happens to be the only one that’s getting done on schedule.

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Columns

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Dear Urban Diplomat: am I a jerk for skipping the TTC farebox line?

Dear Urban Diplomat: am I a jerk for skipping the TTC farebox line?

(Image: Bryson Gilbert/Toronto Life Flickr Pool)

Dear Urban Diplomat,
I was in the Queen subway station recently and encountered a long lineup, so I did that move where you sneak past people mumbling “Sorry” and dump your fare into the can. One guy yelled, “Oh, only you have places to go?” and I got the stink eye from someone else. What am I supposed to do—wait interminably as trains pass by?

—Line Dancer, North York

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Events

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Discover the surprising story of Wonder Woman’s feminist, polygamist creator

(Images: Wonder Woman: courtesy of Random House; Lepore: Dari Michele)

(Images: Wonder Woman: courtesy of Random House; Lepore: Dari Michele)

The Secret History of Wonder Woman, the new book by Harvard history prof and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, is much more than the genesis story of a beloved superhero. Behind the Amazon warrior princess’s invincible bracelets, star-studded tiara and Lasso of Truth is the tale of her creator, William Moulton Marston, an American psychologist and writer. Using unpublished diaries and letters, Lepore’s impeccably researched, century-spanning volume documents Marston’s improbable existence, which somehow included both writing a magazine column that celebrated conventional family life, and, in private, polygamy and BDSM. (Ironically, Marston’s other claim to fame is the invention of a blood pressure test used in modern lie detectors.) At the Lillian H. Smith Library Lepore will converse with Globe and Mail columnist Nathalie Atkinson about how Marston channelled his suppressed identity into the pages of his series, and how his feminist superhero became an embodiment of the women’s rights movement in America.

Thurs. Dec. 11. FREE. Lillian H. Smith Library, 239 College St., 416-393-7746, beguilingbooksandart.com.