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by Anne-Marie Vettorel

George Smitherman likes to pretend he’s a Ryerson student. With a home near Maple Leaf Gardens, Smitherman walks through campus daily.

As crowds of Rye students move from class to class, Smitherman is often among them, crossing Gould Street and detouring around school construction.

“I like the idea of taking cars off Gould Street and of getting a pedestrian entranceway to the subway line at Yonge and Gould,” said Smitherman, a former Liberal MPP who stepped down to run for mayor.

Before entering municipal politics, Smitherman represented Toronto-Centre for a decade.

“I already have that relationship with Ryerson. I have already delivered substantially, $45 million in infrastructure funding, to the school,” he said. In his position as Ontario’s Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, Smitherman committed the money Ryerson needed to fund the Student Learning Centre project.

However, he also spearheaded the negotiations that sought to bring South Korea’s Samsung Group to Ontario to produce wind-based energy. Opponents of the deal say the province would shut out other renewable energy participants by giving Samsung special treatment. He left office before Cabinet finalized the deal.

Smitherman said that Ryerson fits well with his top mandate if elected —job creation.

Dr. Duncan MacLellan, Ryerson political science professor, said there are many ways Smitherman could focus on the university.

“He can create employment and make a closer connection between the school and the city,” MacLellan said. “We already have these connections in a vast array of programs. The green roofs on some Ryerson buildings, for example, were the result of a joint program with the city.”

MacLellan also said Smitherman may have more familiarity with Ryerson than other candidates. Ryerson President Sheldon Levy said Smitherman understands the school’s role as a city-builder but other candidates may also care about Ryerson.

“I think the stronger the mayor, the more the mayor is an aggressive advocate for the city,” said Levy.

The mayor, Levy said, doesn’t have to be Smitherman for Ryerson to benefit. The school just needs someone who has a vision of how to build the city.

In his personal life, Smitherman is thinking about adopting a child. He said Ryerson and the city should partner up in some initiatives to ensure the school is still thriving when that child is old enough for university.

“Ryerson is constrained by geography, so it is really important that the city and Ryerson work together,” he said.

“I’m a Ryerson fan, and I consider myself part of the Ryerson family.”

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