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Mayoral forum on affordable housing, homelessness marred by disruption, protests

Keesmaat leaves venue as pro-Goldy protesters clash with audience, counterprotesters

Mayoral forum on affordable housing, homelessness marred by disruption, protests

A mayoral forum on affordable housing held on October 14 descended into disarray as protesters and audience members clashed over controversial white nationalist candidate Faith Goldy.

The forum was held in the auditorium of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and organized by the Toronto Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

While the candidates who were announced to attend the debate were Mayor John Tory, Jennifer Keesmaat, Sarah Climenhaga, and Saron Gebresellassi, Tory declined the invitation to attend. The debate was moderated by Angela Robertson, a social justice activist.

Prior to the debate, Keesmaat, Climenhaga, and Gebresellassi had signed a housing pledge that committed their efforts toward eliminating homeless deaths and establishing capital funding for Toronto Community Housing. It also defined ‘affordable housing’ as based on income rather than the current definition, which ties and caps rent increases to the Consumer Price Index. The pledge also supports inclusionary zoning, which requires new developments to include a percentage of units that are affordable.

While all the candidates took to the stage, another candidate who had not been announced at the debate, Dionne Renée — who spells her name D!ONNE Renée — sat down at the space onstage reserved for Tory.

Robertson began her opening statements but was interrupted by another mayoral candidate, Kevin Clarke, who called out the event organizers for not inviting him to the debate.

Soon after, protesters in the audience began shouting, “Let Faith debate,” calling for the organizers to let Goldy participate in the event. A similar protest occurred on September 26 at a mayoral debate at UTSC.

The controversy surrounding Goldy stems from her white nationalist views. A former contributor to The Rebel Media — a far-right media outlet — Goldy was fired in 2017 after covering the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and then appearing on a neo-Nazi-affiliated podcast.

Since then, Goldy has repeated white supremacist language and adopted alt-right conspiracy theories.

Shortly after the commotion began, Keesmaat, Climenhaga, and Gebresellassi left the stage while Renée remained.

Clarke and the protesters were asked to leave by the moderator and organizers. One organizer spoke into a microphone attempting to calm the audience, referencing Tory’s absence by saying, “The enemy didn’t come… Why are we fighting each other?”

In a statement to The Toronto Star regarding Tory’s absence, spokesperson Keerthana Kamalavasan wrote, “Mayor Tory is attending an event Monday night for Box 12 Association – a volunteer group that provides support to Toronto Fire. Our campaign had asked for an alternative date but none were provided.”

The candidates, excluding Keesmaat, returned to the stage after multiple police officers and Campus Police escorted the protesters and Clarke out of the auditorium. Robertson continued the forum with Renée, Climenhaga, and Gebresellassi by asking each candidate five predetermined questions.

Regarding Keesmaat’s early exit from the debate, a spokesperson for Keesmaat’s campaign told The Toronto Star: “Jennifer left the stage when it seemed there was no longer an opportunity for open discussion. It’s unfortunate tonight’s event was so chaotically disrupted and she hopes no one was injured.”

Gebresellassi opened by calling out Keesmaat for leaving the building and Tory for not attending, saying that both had “failed the working-class people of the city.”

Gebresellassi promised to declare a “state of emergency” on housing if elected and also promised to defeat the “machinery” of Tory and Keesmaat.

Climenhaga committed to issues mentioned in the housing pledge, including the development of more shelters and inclusionary zoning.

“I don’t have new ideas or new solutions. I just want to follow the ones that exist. All we need is political will and funding.”

In addition, Climenhaga advocated for the use of city lands to develop affordable housing and municipal co-ops.

In her opening statement, Renée claimed that she was being deliberately excluded from media coverage and also alleged that the other two candidates — Climenhaga and Gebresellassi — had left at the direction of Keesmaat during the earlier commotion.

Renée heavily emphasized the need to keep rent tied to income and also called on the provincial and federal governments to identify housing as a human right.

Referencing the HGTV show Property Brothers — in which two brothers quickly renovate and develop a house with a limited budget and timeframe — Renée felt that affordable housing could be developed quickly and funded by cutting wages of provincial employees who make more than $100,000.

More protesters emerged toward the end of the forum, claiming that Goldy was being barred outside the auditorium by police. Goldy was seen outside the room, where police stood in front of the entrance, giving comments to her supporters and responding to counterprotesters.

The event concluded with statements from other mayoral candidates in the audience, including Knia Singh, Kris Langenfeld, and Chai Kalevar.

Mayoral Transit Debate

Mayoral Transit Debate

TTCriders, an organization of transit users, and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union hosted a mayoral debate focused on transit on September 26. Three candidates took the stage at the Scarborough campus. In the middle of Climenhaga’s opening statement, protesters in the audience began shouting, “Where is Faith Goldy?” Picketers with signs that read, “Let Faith Speak,” stood in the back of the room. Faith Goldy, a controversial mayoral candidate associated with white nationalists, was not invited to speak at the event.

Mississauga mayoral candidates bump heads in UTM debate

Debate focuses on transparency, Ford government, diversity initiatives

Mississauga mayoral candidates bump heads in UTM debate

Five Mississauga mayoral candidates contended at a debate organized by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) on October 4 at the UTM Innovation Complex atrium. The candidates debated on a wide range of topics, from opinions on Premier Doug Ford’s government to how Mississauga could be more equitable.

Of the eight total candidates, incumbent mayor Bonnie Crombie, Yasmin Pouragheli, Scott Chapman, Syed Qumber Rizvi, and Andrew Lee attended.

Mohsin Khan and Tiger Meng Wu were not present, and controversial candidate Kevin Johnston was not invited, according to the UTMSU. Johnston was charged with promoting hate in an earlier incident in March.

The debate began with opening statements and included a question period.

Opening statements

Crombie spoke about her work in office, highlighting the success of initiatives such as ‘Making Room for the Middle,’ which aims to keep housing affordable for middle-class families and create a safer city.

Rizvi, a second-time candidate in the Mississauga elections, held a similar sentiment to Crombie’s, proposing affordable housing projects for single-parent households and low-income families.

Chapman, another second-time candidate, spoke of an initiative to compensate residents for using solar panels in an effort to encourage sustainability and environmental consciousness.

Pouragheli, a 26-year-old law school graduate, presented her plan for legislative reform and said that she intends to help municipalities raise revenue.

Lee, a retired engineer, has a platform that advocates for seniors and students alike, drawing from his experiences as a senior citizen in Mississauga.

Question period

The panel consisted of questions from the UTMSU on transit, student housing, immigration, and child care, as well as questions submitted from the audience on community engagement and diversity initiatives.

One Mississauga resident was concerned about transparency between the city council and residents, asking candidates about initiatives the city could undertake to facilitate communication and address unheard complaints.

“Call 3-1-1,” suggested Crombie, referring to the city’s hotline connecting residents to city services and information.

Chapman proposed a direct line to the mayor’s office, encouraging transparency and open communication between residents and the council.

Candidates were also asked questions regarding recent issues such as the changes to the Ontario sexual education curriculum and the increase in minimum wage.

Most of the candidates present looked unfavourably on the provincial government’s decision to revert to an older version of the curriculum.

Chapman said that he was “disappointed” in Ford’s decision as it would impact the quality of education in Mississauga schools.

“I feel that our students should be taught in the schools, not by people their own age and misinformed.”

Pouragheli expressed her support for the 2015 curriculum implemented by the previous provincial government, commenting that “there needs to be a dialogue regarding sensitive topics,” as children are being exposed to sensitive information at a much younger age from the prevalence of social media and the internet.

Crombie also expressed her support for the 2015 curriculum, especially as it taught students about topics such as cyberbullying, gender identity, and consent. She noted that parental consultation is needed to put forward an updated curriculum and allow transparency between school boards and parents.

Lee shared Crombie’s view, calling for a proper curriculum that involves both school board officials and parents.

“Sex education should have two parts,” he said. “One: knowledge education, and two: behaviour education.”

Candidates also expressed strong support for the minimum wage increase.

Chapman said that he is a strong believer in the minimum wage increase as it provides a larger disposable income for families in need.

Echoing that, Crombie said that “people have to have a minimum income to succeed.”

When asked about a possible $15 minimum wage, Pouragheli said, “I think we should keep it as it is and see what happens to the economy in a few years.”

On top of minimum wage, she suggested adding additional services for families in need.

While Lee supported the minimum wage increase, he also acknowledged that wages should be set according to standards of living and need to be balanced.

Toward the end of the debate, an audience member asked about diversity and equity initiatives in employment and what candidates would do to encourage inclusion.

Crombie suggested removing names on résumés, a practice used by employers to prevent bias and focus on merit. She added that jobs serving the community, such as police services and firefighting, should reflect the diverse community that they serve and suggested advertising jobs in cultural newspapers.

Pouragheli agreed with Crombie on removing names on applications, although she said that there could still be small indicators and leeway for bias. Chapman noted that, on top of removing names in job applications, gender also should be removed to address further bias.

Recalling his experience seeking employment in 1973, Lee agreed with merit-based applications and called for greater equity initiatives. Rizvi said that the mayor of Mississauga would look past bias and take opinions, regardless of race.

Advance voting for UTM students happened from October 13–14 at all community centres and elementary and secondary schools in the Ward 8 area.

On October 22, UTM students will have access to various voting locations near campus. St. Mark Separate School, South Common Community Centre, Holy Name of Mary College School, Erindale Secondary School, Oakridge Public School, St. Margaret of Scotland Elementary School, and St. Clare Separate School in Mississauga all offer polling booths close to their classrooms.