In the upcoming provincial elections on June 2, a number of candidates are running for the MPP seat in Scarborough—Rouge Park — the riding to which the UTSC campus belongs. 

The Varsity profiled four of the candidates, focusing on their stance on student related issues, climate change, and mental health supports.

Eligible students can register to vote through Elections Ontario.

Vijay Thanigasalam, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario MPP candidate

Vijay Thanigasalam is the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party of Ontario candidate running for reelection as MPP for Scarborough—Rouge Park. As the incumbent, Thanigasalam had occupied the position of parliamentary assistant to the minister of transportation in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario since 2019. 

In 2003, at the age of 14, Thanigasalam immigrated to Scarborough from Sri Lanka and has lived there since.

Between 2007–2008, Thanigasalam was briefly an undergraduate student at UTSC, working toward a Bachelor of Business Administration. However, he left UTSC and later graduated from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Commerce in 2012. 

Throughout his term, Thanigasalam advocated for better transportation in Scarborough. He focused his efforts on a three-stop extension of the Scarborough subway that, once complete, will extend TTC Line 2 by eight kilometres.

He supported the expansion of health-care training in Scarborough, arguing that knowledge gained within the community will better serve community members. With UTSC recently announcing plans for a medical academy, Thanigasalam is certain that local students will provide exceptional medical care to their “local multicultural communities.”

Manal Abdullahi, Ontario Liberal Party MPP candidate

Manal Abdullahi, a student advisor at Centennial College, is the Ontario Liberal Party MPP candidate for Scarborough—Rouge Park. 

In an email to The Varsity, Abdullahi wrote, “I’ve seen my community shrivel from the devastating cuts to healthcare funding [and] schools and lack of transit investment.” Her campaign centres on ensuring that Scarborough remains a priority for the provincial government and is oriented on a path of “investments and community building.”

Informed by her experiences as an educator and student advisor, Abdullahi understands the value of public investments in all levels of public education. She believes she is qualified to be MPP as her professional background contributes to an intimate understanding of the issues that plague education in the community.

Abdullahi supports the Liberal party’s plans to alleviate student debt. The party promises more investment in the Ontario Student Assistance Program. It is also considering pathways of eliminating interest on existing or future student loans.

She also affirmed that she will work toward increasing avenues of mental health support for students. She explained that the Liberals will improve mental health support by increasing mental health support staff across Ontario. 

Abdullahi listed the reduction of public transit costs as one of her campaign priorities. She believes that the Liberals’ plan to cut public transit fares to one dollar per ride for one year and $40 for monthly passes will save Scarborough residents money, as well as decrease the number of cars on the road.

Felicia Samuel, New Democratic Party MPP candidate

Felicia Samuel is the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate for Scarborough—Rouge Park. During the 2018 municipal election, she ran for a position on the Toronto City Council, but was not ultimately elected.

Previously, Samuel was a teacher at the Emily Carr Public School in Scarborough and an elected member of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Federation of Labour. Currently, Samuel is involved in the Scarborough community through the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — an organization that works in numerous communities, assisting in community building by addressing social and economic justice. 

In an interview with The Varsity, Samuel explained that she was raised in Scarborough, and now, she works for its community. 

“It’s about fighting for the neighborhood that I love and building on the work that I’ve done,” said Samuel.

On the topic of student debt, Samuel said that the NDP is considering ways of eliminating the interest on loans for postsecondary education. She added that the NDP is also looking to lower the cost of international tuition. 

Ever since the province deregulated international tuition fees in 1996, they have been on the rise, having undergone a 142.9  per cent increase between the 2010–2011 academic year and the 2020–2021 academic year. Prior to 1996, it was the responsibility of the provincial government to decide how much Ontario universities were allowed to charge international students.

Samuel shared that she intends to improve student mental health supports, and she believes that the NDP’s plans for mental health will be effective. The party plans to develop a more accessible mental health support system by covering counselling and therapy services under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). Currently, OHIP does not cover mental health treatment from private counsellors and psychologists. 

Priyan De Silva, Green Party MPP candidate

Priyan De Silva is the Green Party MPP candidate for Scarborough—Rouge Park. He, unsuccessfully, ran in the 2016 and 2018 elections for Scarborough ridings.

In an interview with The Varsity, De Silva discussed his extensive work in poverty reduction, housing, and climate justice initiatives in Scarborough. From these experiences, he learned that those problems are all intrinsically tied to one another; he believes that building a resilient community requires an understanding of this interconnectedness. “Climate change isn’t just one issue. It affects every social, architectural piece in society… I think we fail to understand the severity of how intertwined they are,” he explained, adding that he plans to help address these issues by building relationships within the community.  

With regard to mental health, De Silva remarked that the Green Party’s mental health strategy is “immense.” He supports the party’s plans to extend OHIP to cover a broader range of mental health services. 

De Silva posits that the creation of a three-digit Ontario phone line, which people can dial to contact mental health specialists, would establish greater accessibility of mental health services. Currently, Ontario does not have a dedicated three-digit phone line for mental health emergencies; the Canadian Mental Health Association lists various 24/7 phone lines for mental health supports in Ontario.

The Varsity has reached out to Thanigasalam for comment.