Seven years after graduating from Erindale College, Mike Layton was on Toronto’s City Council, representing Trinity-Spadina. He must have been told a hundred times that he had politics in his blood. His great-grandfather and grandfather were cabinet ministers (in Quebec and Ottawa). His father Jack led the federal NDP.
That’s not quite where he was heading when in 1999 he entered what was then called Erindale College – now UTM. He was mostly interested in biochemistry, and took an introduction to Canadian Politics as a lark. He liked it, finding the issues being grappled with more engaging than “breaking into equations.” And in his next year, a comparative course taught by David Wolfe opened up opportunities for him to explore environmental policy in depth – “an incredible course.”
After finishing his B.A. in 2003, he went on to an M.E.S. at York University specializing in urban planning. After that, he worked on the NDP’s 2005-06 national election campaign and the Ontario provincial party’s campaign to get marginalized communities more engaged in politics. An opportunity opened up at Environmental Defence Canada, where he ended up coordinating the Green Energy Act Alliance, pressuring and working with the Ontario government to improve its environmental practice.
Layton hadn’t seriously thought of electoral politics before, but on the prompting of friends and supporters he decided to make a run for the inner city council seat that he ended up winning in the fall of 2010. As a progressive getting into office in the same election that swung council and the mayoralty away from his priorities, he has found it a challenge. “You don’t win all your battles, but in the process you build relationships, learn about new subject areas, and you have an opportunity to impact people’s lives. You can go home thinking, ‘I helped solve a problem.’”
Did the academic material he encountered back in his undergraduate days have any bearing on the world of politics he’s now immersed in? Absolutely. “A lot of what happens here in council goes back to the core principles were learned about in first and second year. I was taught that you base ideas and practice on principles, even if that means taking unpopular stands on issues like taxation. This is basic first- and second-year stuff – what is the role of government, how do you balance private and public interests, what are the priorities of a city?”