On February 5, the first mayoral candidate forum for the upcoming 2014 Toronto municipal election took place at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Organized by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), the debate was held in Rex’s Den, UTSC’s pub-restaurant. Two hundred students were present. The venue soon reached maximum capacity, and more students were accomodated in the food court upstairs.
Himy Syed, co-organizer of the forum and past mayoral candidate, invited all 24 mayoral candidates to the event, however, only five were able to attend. Rob Ford, Toronto’s current mayor, shared the stage with David Soknacki, a former City of Toronto councillor. A number of other largely unknown candidates attended the event, including Robb Johannes, a social justice activist and musician; Al Gore, a former employee at Toronto Hydro; and Richard Underhill, a jazz musician.
The event took place in the midst of UTSC’s own student union elections. Sarah Worku, president of SCSU, hosted the event as a platform for student concerns in the upcoming municipal elections.
“Contrary to popular belief, students do care a lot about municipal politics,” Worku said, “especially because of the immediate daily realities such as transit.”
Throughout the evening, candidates were asked a variety of questions, including alleged racial profiling by the Toronto Police of “black and brown youth,” vote recall, the environment, the lack of homeless shelters for queer and trans youth, how to make the lives of students more affordable, and transit for Scarborough.
Rob Ford received a mixed reaction from the crowd. His speech focused on tax cuts, boosting the economy, and public transit.
Transit is a hot-button issue at UTSC. In 2010, students approved $30 million in funding for the new Pan Am/Parapan Am Aquatics Centre and Field House on campus. At the time, some students believed that a light-rail transit (LRT) line would be built to the campus along with the facilities. However, the line is now cancelled, with students still footing the bill for the facility.
Ford assured those in attendance that a transit system to Scarborough is on the way. “I said we are getting a subway to Scarborough — we are getting a subway to Scarborough. We have the provincial government on board, and the federal government on board.”
Soknacki restated his belief that the LRT was the best transit solution for Scarborough — and, by extension, UTSC — based on the cost and potential ridership in the area.
Overall, UTSC students — such as Moosa Raza, a second year mental health studies specialist — were happy to see the forum at UTSC, as it gave them a chance to engage in the political process and understand candidate platforms.
“I think the SCSU did an exceptional job in making this possible,” said Raza. “I didn’t even know what Rob Ford and the other candidates’ platforms were, and I want to thank the SCSU for bringing them together to raise a sense of political awareness among the student body.”
Voting for the election begins on October 27. A number of prominent potential candidates have yet to declare, including Olivia Chow, and John Tory.