Ahead of the Ontario provincial elections on June 7, The Varsity sat down with the MPP candidates for UTSG’s riding, University—Rosedale. Jo-Ann Davis, who is currently a Trustee for the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), is running with the Liberal Party of Ontario. Her major platform points involving student issues include education, mental health, and housing reform.
With regards to education, Davis hopes to incorporate further job training through co-ops and apprenticeships, as well as to bolster mental health services. Having recently been a tenant herself, one of her goals is to create a more equitable rent control system that fixes the power imbalance between tenants and landlords. In speaking with The Varsity, Davis emphasized the importance of speaking to multiple stakeholders and those “on the ground” in order to make sure policies benefit everyone.
The Varsity: Why are you running for office?
Jo-Ann Davis: I am currently the local TCDSB Trustee, so the story of why I’m campaigning started eight years ago when I decided to run for local trustee. I was doing it then because I thought I had a good combination of life skills and experience to bring to public office. So running for trustee gave me the opportunity to see if I really did have the skills but to do it in a way where I could still do my job at the time — I’m still a management consultant professionally. Over eight years, even though the trustee is largely a role of influence, I have been able to forge some great relationships with the local city councillors, MPs, and MPPs and have made real change on the ground and in governance. I realized even in that role [as trustee], that if you are willing to sit down with others, and especially in a powerful space, you can make great things happen and those are the kinds of things I’d love to do as MPP.
TV: Looking forward, how do you plan to incorporate your past experience in pushing for policies which would help university students, such as health care expansion and public transit?
JD: I actually graduated from St. Mike’s at U of T, although I often joke that I graduated from Hart House because I spent so much time there debating and with the theatre club.
I’m from Toronto. I went to U of T. I understand the difficulties of affordable housing; it’s a problem that’s been around for awhile.
Using both my elected experience and corporate hat, what I find is that you need to be able to work across stakeholder groups. One thing I learned in my corporate capacity is if you’re not talking to the people on the ground who are going to be impacted by what you’re going to do — if you’re not talking to students — then you’re not going to get a solution that works for folks. So one thing I’ve done in my capacity as TCDSB Trustee is really increase the student voice around that board table. It doesn’t only have to do with asking students what their problems are, but also what are their solutions.
Whether that is affordable housing, whether that is health care, unless you’re talking to the people who are impacted by that policy, I guarantee you that you’re not going to get the best policy you could.
TV: How would you translate that experience to working with a university institution and student demographic?
JD: I know there are always established student voices. Whether that’s the graduate student union or the part-time student union, there will be official student voices. But again what I’ve found in my experience is you don’t just want to be talking to the official voices because sometimes they can be a small, narrow view of what the issues are. So I would want to sort of be regularly bringing together not just the official student voices but also just grass roots student voice. And that can be done in all sorts of ways.
A great model that I love at St. Paul’s, which I would love to bring to University—Rosedale, is bringing together all the levels of government who represent you. Because in my experience, there are very few challenges facing us, whether that be affordable housing or transit or health care, that only one level of government can fix. So for example, with transit, while the Liberal government has made historic investments in transit in Toronto and across Ontario, given the split between the city and the province, we’re still not getting what we want. The Liberals put millions in the downtown relief line years ago and still nothing has happened and that’s because of the dynamic between the city and the province.
So I think rather than being in a situation where the person who can answer the question is outside the room, we need everybody around that same table working collaboratively in a public forum to be able to get at the solutions the community is giving us. Then we can be held accountable with people knowing what the challenges are and expecting us as elected representatives to support real solutions that are going to help people’s lives.
The Liberal Party is also investing in work experience with co-op programs. And not just for the traditional engineering students but students that are in arts and other programming where its traditionally been more difficult to find those co-ops and apprenticeship experience. And the Liberals have invested over $190 million over the next three years so that students can get more of those experiences. And that’s key.
I mean we all know especially when you’re starting your career, getting that leg in, the first question is always ‘What experience do you have?’ And so having these co-op and apprenticeship programs are helpful.
TV: What aspects of the Liberal party platform do you hope to incorporate within your riding for students, and which do you not?
JD: I think the Liberal Party is already impacting students right here in University—Rosedale. For instance, the annual $9 million in supports for mental health is huge. I know it from a secondary perspective but also I know in talking with university students that are on my team that it’s a real issue. And it’s frankly from elementary school right to university.
So I’m really pleased that the Liberal government is investing $9 million for mental health supports and that’s something that’s going to have a real impact right here in the riding. I also know in terms of the Indigenous friendships centres, $900,000 is going to the U of T centre specifically, and several million are supporting friendship centres across the province.
Rent control is obviously an enormous piece, and the Liberals came out with their 16-point rent control plan last year. But I have to say, as someone who was a tenant up until about a year and a half ago when I bought my first house, I think it’s pretty clear that while I’m thrilled rent-control now covers all accomodations in Toronto, there is still work to be done there. And there are still loopholes that landlords are getting around. I understand we need a stable and secure rental market both for landlords and tenants, but I think it’s clear that there’s still change on the ground that needs to happen.
TV: If the election doesn’t result in your favour, how do you plan to move forward?
JD: I did my first political canvas when I was six years old and I’ve been involved in civic engagement since then and have done tons of volunteering and community work. So regardless of the outcome, I’m not going to suddenly stop being civically engaged — it’s at the core of who I am and why I’m running for public office. But you can affect change in all sorts of ways, public office being one road but there are all sorts of pathways to improve society for the common good. So if I’m not successful on June 7th, no doubt I’ll find ways to support the public and make Toronto a better place.
TV: Is there anything else you would like to include that you feel we didn’t cover?
JD: I guess the one thing I didn’t touch on and what I’m so proud of being a part of the Liberal Party for is the basic income pilot. Because right now it seems to me that individuals who need the support of government — and you know we all do at one time or another — right now it’s a very punitive system. And with the basic income I think it allows everybody to have dignity as an individual and for it to not be a punitive measure for individuals to get support and to get the basic necessities of life.
We all need help, we all need public schools, we all need hospitals that work. In terms of lifting people out of poverty while giving them dignity, this is just the most marvelous accomplishment of the Liberal government. I can’t wait to see the results of the pilot and I hope that’s something that is rolled out more broadly because I think it’s a whole way of looking at the relationship between the individual and government that just turns it on its head.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.