By Perry Lefko

Jim Tovey helped shape the future of the City of Mississauga with his vision and ideology about land conservation, in particular a project that will turn a barren area down by the lakeshore into a vibrant business and residential community. Sadly, the popular Ward 1 councillor won’t live to see it.

Tovey unexpectedly passed away on Jan. 15 at the age of 68.

Tovey was voted Mississauga Citizen Of The Year in 2009, served as president of the Lakeview Ratepayers’ Association and became a member of the Port Credit Business Improvement Association. He ran successfully for election in Ward 1 in 2010. It was his vision to transform the vacant land at the old Lakeview Generating Plant in the southeast corner of Mississauga into Inspiration Lakeview, which will be recalled as his greatest legacy. He knew the area well, having moved there in 1989.

“Mississauga lost one of its greatest champions,” Mississauga Mayor Bonne Crombie said in a statement on Tuesday. “He was a friend to all those who met him and the passionate leader of Ward “1-der-ful. Jim was a community builder whose legacy will live on through the growth and redevelopment of the waterfront, in particular the revitalization of Port Credit and the development of the Lakeview lands.

“A more ardent defender of the Great Lakes you will not find … Jim led the charge to protect our waterfront and our waterways for future generations. On a personal note, like so many, I came to count Jim among my good friends. It was an honour to work with and learn from Jim for the past six years.

“He was always there in your time of need, ready to lend a hand and never afraid to roll up his sleeves to get the job done. Jim had a great sense of humour and always looked for the positive in every issue or challenge. He did not accept that something could not be done, but always looked for innovative ways to make the world a better place. We will miss his energy, tenacity, and thoughtful input around the council table.”

Inspiration Lakeview is a 99-hectare development plan that is scheduled to create residential and cultural buildings on the land which used to be the Ontario Power Generation Lakeview Generating Station Plant and the lands comprising the older Lakeview employment area located north of the Ontario Power Generation site. The land had been vacant since the demolition of the four coal-fired smoke stacks on 2007.

In 2008, as president and founder of the Lakeview Ratepayers Association, he headed a citizens group that became the first in North America to create a community-driven Master Plan adopted by all levels of government. The legacy project received two national awards for urban planning. He was instrumental in convincing the City of Mississauga and the provincial government to abandon plans to construct a 900 MW gas plant and to adopt the concepts of a community designed revitalization plan for the eastern Mississauga waterfront that became known as Inspiration Lakeview.

Charles Sousa, Member of Provincial Parliament for Mississauga South, knew Tovey and remembered him fondly.

“I was honoured to know Jim both personally and professionally,” Sousa said in a statement. “He was a friend. Jim’s positive impact on our community and the province cannot be overstated. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, Jim worked tirelessly to eliminate the Lakeview coal plant from our community, improving the air quality locally and across the province. Jim also envisioned replacing the plant with a mixed-use community and conservation area.

“Jim made us all dream bigger and work harder to transform industrial lands and revitalize our precious waterfront into a destination where people can work, play and raise a family. Jim Tovey is the inspiration for Inspiration Lakeview, which will be his legacy for generations to come.”

Ellen Timms, Port Credit Business Improvement Association general manager, echoed those thoughts about the legacy of the Lakeview project.

“More broadly than just his ward, that’s stuff that’s going to impact the City of Mississauga and the Province of Ontario and Lake Ontario,” Timms said. “It’s bigger than his constituency. It’s all really big stuff and it was a vision that he had with his neighbours before he decided to get into politics.

“It hit me hard that how sad it is that he won’t live to see that – the fruits of that labour. He certainly was a trailblazer. He pushed the limits. If somebody said ‘I don’t think we can do that,’ Jim is the guy who would say, ‘Why not? I’d be willing to try.’

“He was really so extraordinary. He was a captain with a big vision. He was an environmentalist, a musician, a lover of arts. He made a lot of things happen for us in Port Credit, but I rarely ever heard him being negative about anything or anybody. He was such an optimist – he really was — in a position in which you could become really cynical.”

Mike Douglas, Mississauga Arts Council executive director, said Tovey was an individual who worked hard to serve others.

“He did give you the impression that just about anything was possible and he was absolutely willing to work day and night to make it happen,” Douglas said. “It’s hard to imagine somebody who might be better suited to be a city councilor than Jim. His grassroots appreciation and being open and accessible to people was outstanding.

“When he first came to city hall (as a councilor), he wanted to take a tour and go all around it and see what everybody was doing. If anybody else had done that a councilor, I’m not sure, but he went from one end to the other building and the towers and the other facilities (and asked people what they did). That was typical for him to completely embrace what he was doing.

“He did tremendous things to get these projects moving in south Mississauga. He helped create lot of excitement at city hall because he loved the staff. Some will tell you he drove them a little crazy at times, but they loved him because he said why not? It helped make a lot of very significant thing happen. He really had a taste for the arts, music in particular.”

“He was very generous with information,” Douglas added. “He was prone to be researching something. He was always talking about how he was on Google at midnight.”

Tovey was also active in the creation of the Mississauga Music Walk Of Fame in 2012. He drew on his experience as a carpenter and heritage restoration specialist and his love for music. He had a 15-year career as a vocalist. Long before his political career he played guitar in a Rolling Stones cover band called Hott Roxx. It broke up after 10 years, but he continued to play in the Mississauga area.

“He literally went out there and raised the money,” Timms said. “Because he was a skillful guy, he got some of his friends to help cut out the pavement and install these granite slabs and then the city said, ‘Wait a minute, the councilors aren’t supposed to do that.’ So the BIA stepped up and signed the licensing agreement that we own it and pay for it and insure it. Jim just thought that up. He didn’t have to do that.”

The day before his passing, he had been at the water treatment plant as part of a photographic exhibit he had put together called Morphology. It began last September when Tovey contacted 11 photographers to document the transformation of the area.

“It was his idea because he was so struck by the visuals in the process of creating this wet land that he thought there should be photographs of this and capture this,” Douglas said. “Jim was great at working with partnerships and finding ways to make them work and that’s part of how he was able to accelerate projects.”

Steve Uhraney was one of the photographers who participated in the project, which will be on display in March at city hall.

“Jim was big into supporting the arts community near Port Credit and was also big on the environment,” said Uhraney. “This whole wet lands development project was his idea from the beginning.”

Tovey is survived by his wife, Lee, son, Daniel, and a grandson.