Toronto is just a few days away from electing a mayor and a 25-seat city council, along with school board trustees. In advance of October 22, The Varsity spoke with some candidates for Ward 25 Scarborough—Rouge Park — the most contested U of T electoral district and the one that contains UTSC — about their platforms, policies, and visions for students.
Neethan Shan, the incumbent councillor for Ward 42 Scarborough—Rouge River, which is now a part of Ward 25, has a long history of community and public service. Born in Sri Lanka, Shan came to Canada as a refugee when he was 16, and went on to work in youth programs with various social services agencies.
He served on the York Region District School Board from 2006–2010, and was elected to the Toronto District School Board in a 2016 by-election. Shan also later successfully contested a 2017 by-election for city council to become the body’s second Tamil Canadian representative.
“Postsecondary institutions, including the University of Toronto, need to work together with the City of Toronto, to build affordable housing options for students that are close to campus,” said Shan. He noted that current and future rooming houses need to be regulated in order to ensure students’ safety, and encouraged a partnership between U of T and the city.
On road safety, Shan said he supports increased regulations near educational institutions, such as speed reductions, stop signs, and improved traffic lights. He also said that the city needs to enhance the enforcement of existing rules by holding those who break traffic rules around educational facilities accountable.
Shan pointed to his vote for the Scarborough subway as a hallmark of his dedication to public transit, and writes on his website that he “successfully campaigned to extend the Eglinton East LRT [Light Rail Transit] to Malvern.”
Jennifer McKelvie is an environmental ecoscientist who headed the Scarborough Community Renewal Organization and served as a board member on the UTSC Campus Council. She was also a member of both the Toronto Region Conservation Authority and the Scarborough Women of Philanthropy.
McKelvie advocates for safe school zones and new housing options for seniors, among many other issues. On transit, she hopes to focus on an integrated Scarborough transit system, which would include an extension to the current subway system, the Eglinton East LRT, and improved bus services.
Drawing from her work prior to and as the inaugural president of the Scarborough Community Renewal Organization, a non-profit that works to help develop a “bold vision for Scarborough,” McKelvie said she also wants to develop an arts centre to showcase the cultural diversity of her ward and help stimulate the regional economy.
She also intends to work toward developing “trade-training” centres in preparation for the various infrastructure development coming to Scarborough.
On student issues, McKelvie emphasized creating safe and affordable housing for students, particularly by enacting regulations for rooming houses in consultation with students, residents, and rooming house owners.
“Scarborough deserves better,” she said.
McKelvie emphasized her commitment and experience as her strengths. “I live here, I volunteer here, and I was the first person to sign-up… to represent our community.”
Paul Cookson, the founder of a Toronto-based advertising agency, believes that the key to strengthening students’ job prospects after graduation is to prop up local businesses.
“I’m pro-business and the reason I’m pro-business is… the stronger our local businesses are, the more people that are going to hire. It’s just common sense, right?” said Cookson. “Nobody’s really doing anything to help local business and I think that’s short-sighted.”
Cookson also commented on the lack of affordable and safe housing for students. To address high costs in Ward 25, he started the website 25housing.ca where homeowners can list rooms in their homes and residents can live there in exchange for helping with chores.
“It’d be a case-by-case situation,” he said. “Maybe one person wanted somebody to be in charge of the place in the winter… and maybe once a week they want the students to go to the grocery store for them.”
Cookson added that rooming houses should be legalized so that they won’t fly under the radar anymore.
“We can try to police where exactly these rooming houses are and ensure that they’re safe.”
Cookson said that what sets him apart from other candidates is his focus on housing and local small businesses, and the initiatives that he has already started.
“I’m not even in office yet and I’ve started,” he noted. “And that’s because I’m not a guy that sits around waiting, I’m an action person. If there’s a problem, I attack it. There’s nobody else [here who] has already started on initiatives that are actually live.”
Daniel Cubellis, a graduate of U of T’s civil engineering program and an infrastructure specialist, is running on a platform of efficient public transit, affordable housing for seniors and the vul and engagement with local communities.
“I think that you need more of a revolution in terms of the technology that is used,” said Cubellis in regards to engaging students with public life. “Being younger, I know what most people do on social media.”
Cubellis said that more social engagement is needed “so that people have an idea of what is going on in the wards.”
Regarding public transit, Cubellis is strongly in favour of expanding the proposed Scarborough subway. “I want a three-stop subway to Scarborough instead of the one stop they’re proposing,” he said. “I want the original three stop between STC — to McCowan and Sheppard — because it allows more accessibility for transit users because there are other points of access.”
Cubellis noted that the three-stop system will also allow for increased development in the area because they’re already hubs. He also wants the city to look into creating more express bus lines.
On affordable housing, Cubellis referenced the fire that killed a UTSC student in May, asserting that the city needs to regulate rooming houses while having spaces available for students.
“I’d also be interested in… the student-senior rooming program if they don’t already have it, where a student lives in a senior residence so there’s a relationship where both parties benefit. With senior-student living arrangements, the student can help with chores around the house, cheap rent while the senior also helps. There’s duality for both.”
Jasper Ghori — a marine trained engineer who has worked with Bombardier, Celestica, Canada Steamship Lines, and Owen Sound Transportation Company — is running to empower local communities.
When asked what UTSC students should look forward to from his platform, Ghori wanted students to know that he will be pushing for the improvement of two key issues that currently affect UTSC students: transit and mobility on campus.
To the latter, Ghori refers to improving mobility between buildings at UTSC, specifically between the Instructional Centre (IC) building that lies on the corner of Military Trail and Ellesmere Road and the rest of the UTSC campus, as IC is detached from the main campus site.
“If there was a bridge, they wouldn’t have to wait for the traffic light [at the Military-Ellesmere intersection].”
Another issue pertaining not just to U of T students, but younger demographics in general, and that has caught the attention of many city-councillor candidates is the legalization of marijuana.
As the October 17 date draws nearer, residents of Ward 25 want to be clear on their candidate’s views. Ghori feels that “it’s going to be very difficult for the city to handle [marijuana] if this gets into private hands. The last date to vote against [retail locations in your ward] is January 22 of 2019. If you don’t [vote] no, it will go into private hands. Some communities have already said no, they have the legal right to do so. This will be a big priority in council. It should be dealt with [by] experts, in my opinion.”
Scarborough is no stranger to fatal shootings. Just last Wednesday, 18-year-old Elliott Reid-Doyle died the in hospital after being shot in a plaza near Birchmount Road and Sheppard Avenue in Ward 22, marking the 83rd homicide in Toronto this year.
In relation to violence within his own ward, Ghori advocates for intervention over arrests.
“I believe issues like gun violence — an issue that continually comes up in our city — when they involve young people, arise from poverty. I believe that when you consider unemployment, a lack of motivation for the future, drugs and gang involvement, things like gun violence arise. I think [by] that taking precautionary steps like pushing for early interventions instead of early arrests, we will be able to prevent such terrible things from happening.”
Eleven candidates are running in Scarborough—Rouge Park: Amanda Cain, Paul Cookson, Daniel Cubellis, Jasper Ghori, Reza Khoshdel, Cheryl Lewis-Thurab, Dave Madder, McKelvie, Christopher Riley, Shan, and Joseph Thomas. Election day is on October 22, and advance voting ran October 10–14.
Voters in the ward can either go to Malvern Recreation Centre at 30 Sewells Road or Heron Park Community Centre at 292 Manse Road to cast their ballot.