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Year-Round Cycling Councillor Challenges Don Cherry

City councillor and avid cyclist Glenn De Baermaerker and his bicycle in front of City Hall. (Aaron Lynett/Toronto Star)

I’ll start this off by unabashedly declaring that I’ve been a Don Cherry fan ever since I was a little kid and was given the green light to stay up a bit late to watch Coach’s Corner with my father.  I’ve always enjoyed Cherry’s bombastic flair and personality, his unwavering patriotism, and his undeniable love for the men and women who defend our country.

I own every Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em VHS and DVD to date and even spent a portion of my reckless youth as a wannabe hockey enforcer.

I also ride a bike. Not quite year-round, but close. 

So I was more than a little perturbed when I heard that Cherry’s ill-advised and by many accounts, embarrassing, tirade at City Hall Tuesday included a glove-less jab at cyclists.

“Well, actually I’m wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything…” Cherry said to a mix of chuckles and awkward, stony silence.  

Known for espousing the virtues of hard work, Cherry has gone to great lengths to cultivate his ‘blue collar’ image over the years.  The Boston Bruins team he coached was even dubbed ‘The Lunch Pail Gang’, referring to their work ethic and collective ‘regular guy’ persona.

In my eyes, there’s nothing more ‘blue collar’ or down-to-earth than getting around by the power of your own efforts, working up a good, honest sweat while saving a few bucks and helping the environment.  

No one knows that more than Ward 38 Scarborough Centre councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker.

He was one of several councillors who found Cherry’s speech to be offside, with his linking of cyclists with pinkos even more peculiar.  

“My personal reaction was that it was a very bizarre, strange comment,” De Baeremaeker told CityNews.ca on Wednesday.   “I just thought, ‘You don’t like people who ride bicycles, why?’  People who ride bicycles are charming.  You know, to say that because you ride a bike you’re a left-wing pinko is just silliness.  But that’s what Mr. Cherry does.”

“In general I have to say as one of these tough Canadians who cycles pretty much year round, cyclists tend to be not a socialist lot, but a happy lot…everybody from every part of the rainbow rides their bike.  I didn’t know there was an exclusive component to socialists riding their bikes.”

De Baeremaeker also finds the backlash against cyclists to be misdirected.

“I always think as a cyclist that car drivers should thank us, because instead of me driving a big car downtown and taking up space on the road, I’m on a bicycle taking up less space,” he reasoned.   “If 10,000 of us rode into work, there would be 10,000 fewer cars on the road.  I don’t think he said, ‘I’m against cyclists’, it was just a reckless, meandering rant, it didn’t make sense.”

If Grapes really does love tough guys as much as he lets on, De Baeremaeker would be right up his alley.  
Words like ‘Extreme Cold Alert’, don’t stop him from hopping on his bike and commuting back and forth daily between City Hall and Scarborough.  

“(Cherry’s comment) almost seems anti-Canadian, because if you can get on a bike like me in -10C weather and ride an hour-and-a-half to two hours every morning and every night going home, you’re a pretty tough cookie.  

“I think we’ve all been to parties where somebody has gotten drunk and said something stupid and Mr. Cherry just said something stupid and he is famous for that, but does it really offend me as a cyclist? No, I look at where it’s coming from.  He just said silly things — a silly man saying silly things and I would truly invite him to meet me at City Hall man-to-man and get on a bike and let him try to keep up with me.”

De Baeremaeker doesn’t expect Cherry to take him up on the challenge, but he did have some parting words for Grapes, who he feels was out of line with his address Tuesday.  

“It did offend a lot of people and not just left-wing downtown councillors.  Everybody I think was a little bit embarrassed.  But I think as mature adults we’ll get over it.  The more important parts were, I really think, from the mayor’s speech.  The mayor in the end laid out what he wanted to do for the next four years, including good customer service, his transportation plan and things like that.”

“It’s not about you, Don, it’s about the mayor and the city, and he forgot about that.”

michael.talbot@citynews.rogers.com