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.

Saron Gebresellassi, Sarah Climenhaga challenge appearance of two-person mayoral race

Underreported candidates present progressive vision for Toronto on housing, transit

Saron Gebresellassi, Sarah Climenhaga challenge appearance of two-person mayoral race

Voters across Toronto are heading to the ballot boxes today to choose their next municipal leaders. Despite being the most prominent mayoral contenders, John Tory and Jennifer Keesmaat aren’t the only candidates running to lead Toronto.

Sarah Climenhaga, a safe streets advocate, registered to run for Mayor of Toronto the moment nominations opened at 8:30 am on May 1. Five months later, she said that the campaign has been going well, and that she has been able to drum up grassroots support through social media and public appearances. At the same time, however, she noted the lack of media attention on her candidacy.

“I have never really been able to break into the media, and without regular media coverage, it’s just too difficult to reach all of the Torontonians who are voting in this huge city,” Climenhaga said.

“It’s just not fair, and name recognition is the most important thing in politics… Any incumbent who’s been in power for four years already has huge name recognition.”

When The Varsity spoke with Climenhaga, six days were left in the campaign, and contenders were trying to reach as many people as possible and distinguish themselves among the 35 mayoral candidates.

Nevertheless, Climenhaga said that the last few weeks had been good for her bid to become the city’s chief executive. She cited positive feedback from her debate performances, many of which have involved four candidates as a result of Tory’s announcement that he would not debate Keesmaat one-on-one. Tory is running for re-election and Keesmaat, who is currently at second place in the polls, is the city’s former Chief Planner.

Human rights lawyer Saron Gebresellassi echoed her mayoral rival and said that her own campaign has had many breakthroughs despite not having as high a budget as Tory’s.

In an interview, Gebresellassi said that she was campaigning as a “progressive alternative” to Tory.

“I have advocated vigorously for social equality in the City of Toronto and took a lot of inspiration from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in the City of New York,” she said, referencing the progressive candidate’s surprise win in a US Democratic primary. “People are really, really believing that a political upset is in our cards.”

Gebresellassi also mentioned that she was confident that, through community organizing, her bid for mayor would be able to defeat the “machinery” of Tory and Keesmaat.

Despite gains on social media, Gebresellassi called out the media’s perceived fixation on Keesmaat, calling her campaign “manufactured” and lacking in authenticity.

“She has a lot of money behind her, but look closely and you’ll see she’s not on the ground,” Gebresellassi alleged. “She doesn’t canvass, she doesn’t knock on doors.”

Gebresellassi also criticized Keesmaat for leaving minutes into a Mayoral Forum on Affordable Housing and Homelessness at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education when the event was disrupted by supporters of the controversial mayoral candidate and white nationalist Faith Goldy.

A spokesperson for Keesmaat’s campaign told The Toronto Star that same evening that she “left the stage when it seemed there was no longer an opportunity for open discussion.”

Gebresellassi is hoping to become the first racialized female mayor of Toronto. One of her campaign slogans is “This Is What a Mayor Looks Like.”

“I’m up against the whole weight of political history,” she said. “We’ve had almost all men, we’ve had two women, but other than that, almost exclusively a lineage of men who are Anglo-Saxon and come from a more privileged background.”

Climenhaga wants to add more traffc-calming measures. PHOTO BY MICHAEL TSENG

Progressive policies

Gebresellassi and Climenhaga are both running on progressive platforms of expanded social services and more equitable communities across the city.

Climenhaga spoke on how places with good transit, bike-friendly streets, and walkable pavements are expensive, while areas that don’t have transit — and are thus predominantly car-oriented — are more affordable.

“We’re actually forcing people of low income to buy a car because they can’t afford to live in the neighbourhoods where you don’t need a car,” she said.

Climenhaga proposed prioritizing public transportation over private vehicles, favouring bicycle corridors throughout the city, and adding more traffic-calming measures like lower speed limits in residential neighbourhoods.

For her part, Gebresellassi is proposing to make public transit free for all users, a central tenet of her campaign.

“Free transit experts in Toronto, who I’ve also been in contact with, have already laid out a pathway to finance free transit,” Gebresellassi said. “There’s a number of revenue sources, including a commitment from the federal government… to contribute to the cost of transit as well as… closing corporate tax loopholes.”

“It’s not something that would happen overnight, but it’s certainly something that is in the future of the city,” she added.

When asked about what they would do about precarious housing, given the house fire that killed a UTSC student back in May, Climenhaga said that she would harmonize the rules surrounding rooming houses to make them safe and viable options for students.

“What we have now is a situation where people don’t want rooming houses in certain neighbourhoods, but they exist nonetheless,” she said. “All the people in those illegal rooming houses are at risk, but the rooming houses offer a big potential for affordable housing and we just need to make sure that they’re safe, rather than driving them underground and having them be dangerous.”

Gebresellassi is advocating for an additional 20,000 affordable housing units to be built over the next four years. “I’ve also said that I’ll be declaring a state of emergency on housing immediately upon assuming office and establish an affordable housing task force that will bring together the foremost housing experts, policy wonks, engineers, and actuarians that could actually make it happen.”

She added that she will commit to a “really aggressive approach” on the issue by unlocking city lands, which she says are underutilized, and committing to inclusionary zoning to build more affordable units.

“We will not let another term go by without fixing affordable housing.”

The Breakdown: John Tory’s campaign for re-election

From taxes to transit, here’s the platform for the incumbent mayoral candidate

The Breakdown: John Tory’s campaign for re-election

Mayor John Tory will be up for re-election in the municipal elections on October 22. Tory, who is currently leading in the polls, was a graduate of Trinity College and the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario from 2004–2009. Following the late mayor Rob Ford’s drug abuse controversy and subsequent leave of absence for rehabilitation, Tory was elected in October 2014 as Mayor of Toronto.

Taxes, jobs, and affordability

Basing his platform on past accomplishments, such as funding the Poverty Reduction Plan and expanding the Student Nutrition Program, Tory’s campaign website declares his “commitment to keeping Toronto affordable.”

This includes promises to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation for four more years — a mainstay from his campaign in 2014 — and implementing a Poverty Reduction 2.0 plan.

The plan would address “Housing Stability, Service Access, Transit Equity, Food Access, Quality Jobs and Livable Wages, Systemic Change,” though no detailed funding and execution plans are available.

Tory also touts his success, claiming that 200,000 jobs were created during his current term, and hopes to push for more from the tech, film, and banking sectors. He plans to do this by keeping commercial property taxes low.

He also hopes to expand youth employment through his Partnership to Advance Youth Employment program, which aims to reduce youth unemployment by half.

One of his major criticisms of Jennifer Keesmaat — the former Chief Planner, and Tory’s biggest challenger, according to polls — is her willingness to create new taxes and raise existing ones, claiming that the move would “make Toronto less affordable for Toronto residents.”

Keesmaat’s proposed taxes include one on luxury homes over $4 million and another charge for stormwater management.

Affordable housing and homelessness

With nearly 100 homeless deaths in Toronto in 2017 alone, Tory was called out this past winter for his delayed decision to expand winter shelters into city armouries for the homeless. He was also criticized for not attending a mayoral forum on affordable housing and homelessness held at U of T on October 15.

In this election, Tory has put affordable housing at the centre of his second term, calling for 400 new spaces for Toronto’s homeless population to relieve the often overcrowded shelters.

Tory’s affordable housing platform is based on building 40,000 affordable rental units over 12 years, which is mainly a continuation of his current work.

He hopes to attract “social impact investors” to create new affordable housing, and to appoint an “Affordable Housing Secretariat to coordinate the City’s activities on Affordable Housing.”

Transit and traffic

Tory’s transit plan is largely a continuation of his work as mayor, including the controversial one-stop Scarborough subway plan, which was voted for by City Council over light rail transit but criticized for being poorly planned. During his current term, Tory struck a fare agreement with the provincial government for $3 GO fares and secured a $9 billion downpayment from the provincial and federal governments for transit.

The incumbent candidate was also criticized for SmartTrack — a plan to create a surface transit system using rail corridors. Keesmaat was an especially vocal critic, saying that SmartTrack “never left the station,” hoping to cancel the eastern extensions, and calling it a “distraction” or “mirage.”

Crime and policing

After what he described as a “shocking” wave of gun deaths over the summer, Tory reversed his police hiring freeze and proposed a handgun ban to be considered by the federal government.

In his campaign commitments, Tory promised to establish a Community Safety Advisory Body and match the $25 million that the provincial government has invested into community safety programs — with an emphasis on community programming for young people.

The Breakdown: Jennifer Keesmaat’s last-minute run for mayor

Keesmaat focuses on environmental sustainability, safety reform, infrastructure

The Breakdown: Jennifer Keesmaat’s last-minute run for mayor

Jennifer Keesmaat’s last-minute entry into the mayoral race drew her a lot of attention in a short campaign season. Since joining the race, she has steadily remained in second place in the polls. Keesmaat is a York University and University of Western Ontario alum, and was Toronto’s Chief Planner from 2012–2017. Keesmaat’s policy plan consists of making Toronto greener and more sustainable, transforming Yonge Street, and focusing on transit planning.

Environmental sustainability

Keesmaat’s environmental plan aims to create 100 kilometres of green streets each year mainly by planting gardens and trees on all streets that need to be resurfaced. She also plans on making more environmentally conscious infrastructure decisions, going off of what the Queens Quay Sustainable Sidewalk Program and the Rain Garden Parkette have aimed to accomplish. She is also dedicated to creating a stormwater management charge.

“Toronto will suffer more and more from the kinds of intense storms and flooding that climate change brings,” Keesmaat’s website said on her environmental policies. “We can’t control the weather, but we can make different decisions about how we build out our infrastructure to minimize flooding and create a healthier, more liveable city for everyone.”

Safety

Keesmaat plans to double the amount of mental health workers that work with the police force. She also aims to expand the neighbourhood policing program to 140 neighbourhoods, with the hopes of bringing 911 response times up to the national average.

If elected, she would request the provincial and federal governments to ban the sale of handguns and handgun ammunition within Toronto’s borders.

Keesmaat plans to make the Vision Zero approach a requirement to all new development projects. Vision Zero is a municipal plan to make Toronto streets safer for drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Under Vision Zero, Keesmaat would support reducing the speed limit to 30 kilometres per hour on all residential roads, as well as redesigning dangerous intersections and school zones within two years.

Taxes

Like Tory, Keesmaat promised that she would cap most residential property taxes at inflation. She is making an exception, however, to tax luxury homeowners with homes worth over $4 million at an additional 0.4 per cent per year.

The revenue from this tax would go back into an affordable home ownership program.

Keesmaat also said that she would push to see more revenue from the provincial and federal governments to go back into the city.

Infrastructure and transit

To confront what she sees as transit planning chaos, Keesmaat plans to make up for lost time on a proposed relief line, which is a plan to build a rapid transit system to combat the crowded subways on Line 1.

Stations have already been selected, and according to Keesmaat it would take the city about one to two years to acquire property. During this time, utility relocations could commence, which she estimates will be about a six-month process.

“Everyone who rides the subway to work or school every day knows that we’ve reached a crisis point in this city. You wait on a dangerously overcrowded platform as packed train after packed train passes you by. And when you can finally get on, you’re crushed. Toronto commuters need relief, and they need it now,” said Keesmaat.

Her Yonge Street plan looks to “transform Yonge St. from Sheppard to Finch into a vibrant and unique urban destination in the heart of North York.” Keesmaat wants to make Yonge Street a place where residents can walk, drive, bike, and work. She also aims to address the amount of collisions, and instances of bikers and pedestrians being hit by cars.

Election day is on October 22, and advance voting ran October 10–14.

The Faith Goldy effect

Uncovering the manipulative politics of the U of T alum who became the far-right, white nationalist Toronto mayoral candidate

The Faith Goldy effect

Faith Goldy is not your average U of T alum. In 2012, she received the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award, which recognizes “graduating students for making outstanding contributions to improving the world around them and inspiring others to do the same.”

In March, a petition calling for her award to be rescinded was signed by scores of fellow recipients, claiming that her views are not representative of the university. This request was surprisingly denied by the U of T Alumni Association.

After all, in the six years since receiving the award, Goldy emerged as a white nationalist and online media personality. Today, she’s using that image to run for mayor of Toronto. It’s difficult to imagine how the views of a potential Mayor Goldy would honour the award’s call to “improve the world.”

Against all odds

Goldy’s core public views are unambiguously hateful. She promotes protecting the white majority, ending a so-called “white genocide,” and closing Canada’s borders. She has also uttered the Fourteen Words, a white supremacist creed about protecting the white majority.

Her views are so extreme that even the controversial Rebel Media, for which she worked as a correspondent, let her go following her attendance at the violent Charlottesville Unite the Right rally and her subsequent interview on a neo-Nazi affiliated podcast.

The passion that fuels Goldy’s mayoral campaign has mobilized Toronto’s far right. Indeed, her fanbase has grown during her campaign, particularly in the online world, with thousands of devoted admirers retweeting and regurgitating her messages. However, she is overwhelmingly dismissed as a fringe candidate by mainstream Toronto media and politicians, polling very weakly throughout the campaign. It’s plausible that much of her support online comes from people living outside of Toronto. Whatever the case, this contradiction puzzled me, and I set out to explore it.

The person and the persona

Having researched her online extensively, I reached out to Goldy directly for an interview. I was nervous to meet her. When she finally arrived at our decided location, Robarts Library, she drew stares. She shook my hand and her face was engulfed with a bright smile. Her energy was infectious, and I could immediately feel myself being pulled in.

She spoke of how her grandfather was a carpenter who worked on the steps of Robarts and about the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. We chatted about its history, and she complimented my knowledge. She has charisma and charm, and she expertly dodged every question that addressed her more extreme views. She was polite, engaged, and moderate in all her responses.

Following the meeting, I felt very conflicted — feeling that I had been bamboozled in some way. I returned to her online feed and scrolled through her Reddit Ask Me Anything to discover her new Islamophobic messages. Other journalists have experienced this very same chicanery from Goldy and other far-right figures.

Her online presence leads down a dark rabbit hole. From seemingly harmless videos about conservative values to tweets about an ethnic genocide of white people, Goldy’s messages are filled with coded language that appeals to loyal, more integrated members of the far-right and white nationalist community.

The contradiction between the considerate person at Robarts and the racist, online persona who spews messages implying that nothing is stronger than ethnic bonds seemed like two different identities. It became clearer that the growing popularity of figures like Goldy relies on a charisma that makes hatred palatable.

Normalizing extremeness

Goldy claimed that her interactions with the public are mostly very positive. She campaigns at subway stops and shares her message by pounding the pavement and knocking on doors. Goldy knows her audience. On one hand, she presents common sense ideas like fixing Toronto’s roads, working toward affordable housing, and creating new architectural standards for city buildings.

On the other hand, she makes the sensationalist call to evacuate all “illegal immigrants” to Justin Trudeau’s official residence. She proposes to reinstate the controversial Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, which allows police to investigate anyone whom they feel is suspicious and which has a history of targeting racialized youth. She also wields Islamophobia as a powerful tool, calling for a “Special Research Desk on Islamic Extremism” to “monitor finances in and out of Toronto Islamic centres.” These policies target marginalized communities and not individuals guilty of a crime.

This is strategic. Goldy’s target audience is the ‘Joe Six-pack,’ the average blue-collar white male in Toronto, and she works to make them believe that they are disadvantaged in this city — which they are not. Her use of fear is a consistent tactic throughout her campaign, using “make Toronto safe again” to evoke a sense of purpose and paranoia in her fanbase. She wants voters to think that she is the only candidate with the will to protect them. Thus, she needs to present enemies to protect them from.

While she knows when to stoke the flames, she also knows when to veil her views as non-threateningly conservative. Goldy’s slogan, “Tough on Crime, Easy on Taxpayers,” could appeal to any Torontonian. She argues that everyone in the city wants money back in their pocket. By mixing legitimate policies into her platform, she aims to normalize her candidacy and, by extension, her extremist, racist rhetoric.

This ostensibly makes it possible to explain away being her supporter without being discredited as a white nationalist. Goldy’s auxiliary promises to fix roads and host tailgating parties are her Trojan horse, allowing her to wheel into the minds of moderates without setting off major alarms. This is not very original: far-right movements elsewhere, such as US President Donald Trump’s, have succeeded by this very careful mix of legitimate and extreme policies.

Resorting to the ‘free speech’ argument

When far-right figures like Goldy face criticism, opposition, and de-platforming because of their oppressive views, they are quick to deflect the conversation from the content of their speech to the freedom of their speech. The discussion changes from the underlying racism of their views — a debate they would not be able to win — to one about an abstract right to speak their mind.

Consider the blackout of Goldy’s campaign by mainstream politics. She has not been invited to the mayoral debates; Mayor John Tory has refused to debate her; and, following deserved pressure from the opposition at Queen’s Park, but after posing in a photo with her, Premier Doug Ford condemned Goldy’s views.

Goldy, like many other far-right figures, is a master of self-victimization. When she is shut down and excluded from the news cycle, she portrays herself as a martyr of political correctness — and her followers agree. She tweeted recently that three of her top Twitter supporters had their accounts suspended by the platform. According to Goldy, the evil ‘alt-left’ are the real oppressors and authoritarians, not her. This effectively confuses oppressor and victim.

She even stormed the stage of an arts debate, flashing a petition with 5,000 signatures calling to let her debate. She later berated the moderator, calling her a “leprechaun troll.” She was reportedly not invited because she did not meet the qualifications, which required her to fill out the candidate’s survey and provide an arts policy. Yet she still filed this experience away in her long narrative of perceived censorship.

Goldy is also turning the rejection of her radio ads by Bell Media into a courtroom circus, arguing that her rights are being infringed upon — taking the onus off of the content of her character and instead villainizing her opponents.

I understand why mainstream politicians and media are refusing to engage with Goldy. However, as her self-victimization comes from a place of privilege and her continued ‘censorship’ only invigorates her fan base, silencing the far right has never felt like more of a bandaid tactic.

A forbidden message has power and allure. She has said, “The more they try to silence us, the more people are starting to pay attention.” For once, I have to say that I agree with her. Silencing Goldy only empowers and reassures her followers that there truly is an assault on free speech in this country.

Her supporters band together across her social media, calling for the downfall of the mainstream media and “fellowship” among Toronto’s “political elite.” This anti-establishment rhetoric is becoming more and more familiar with the infusion of unabashed far-right figures clawing their way into the mainstream consciousness.

Confronting the far-right on campus

U of T has a comprehensive free speech policy, acknowledging that debate and freedom of speech are key in the pursuit of truth and the dissemination of knowledge. The university also explains that “every member should be able to work, live, teach and learn in a University free from discrimination.” It is within these seemingly contrasting principles that we are left to find the balance.

When Goldy was invited to speak at Wilfrid Laurier University, a student activist pulled the fire alarm. No professors from the university had agreed to debate her. Despite Goldy’s talk ending before it began, she has not been deterred whatsoever. During our interview, she expressed her plans to return to Laurier and finally give her presentation.

I understand why students would want to preserve safe spaces and protect each other from hateful rhetoric. However, by silencing Goldy, we seem to be pumping her campaign with fuel.

The way to challenge far-right figures like Goldy is not to provide them with free rein to deliver long speeches and present their views as fact, which almost occurred at Laurier. Rather, they must be challenged and debated in controlled forums with fact-checking and knowledgeable opponents — ideally professors. This would not only easily reveal the baselessness of their arguments, but also revoke their ability to brand themselves as martyrs and their experience as censorship.

On October 22, Toronto will have its say at the polling stations, and I am confident that Goldy has no chance of victory. However, by silencing figures like Goldy or pretending like they don’t exist, we allow them to continue to assemble underground — unchallenged. I fear that in time, they will only become more united and, as we’ve seen south of the border, real political contenders.

Anastasia Pitcher is a second-year Biodiversity and Conservation Biology and Genome Biology student at New College.

Here are your Scarborough—Rouge Park municipal candidates

Incumbent councillor facing crowd of challengers

Here are your Scarborough—Rouge Park municipal candidates

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.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NEETHAN SHAN CAMPAIGN

Neethan Shan

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.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNIFER MCKELVIE CAMPAIGN

Jennifer McKelvie

Jennifer McKelvie is an environmental geoscientist 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.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL COOKSON

Paul Cookson

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.”

PHOTO BY G & D CUBELLIS

Daniel Cubellis

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.”

PHOTO BY ALI JAFARDAZEH/AJ PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY (Photo also featured by The Toronto Star)

Jasper Ghori

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.

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.

Jennifer Keesmaat speaks at Innis Town Hall

Mayoral candidate talks affordable housing, public transit, local democracy

Jennifer Keesmaat speaks at Innis Town Hall

Mayoral candidate and former Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat spoke at a student-led discussion hosted by the Urban Studies Student Union on September 24 at Innis Town Hall.

The event, titled “Our City, Our Future: Students in Conversation with Jennifer Keesmaat” aimed at discussing pressing Toronto issues, including public transit, affordable housing, local arts and culture initiatives, and the importance of local democracy and community engagement.

The discussion was moderated by Anjuli Solanki, an artist and the Director of Community Programs at the Sustainable Thinking and Expression on Public Space Initiative, which provides a creative space for public engagement and community building projects in developing neighbourhoods.

“It takes 20 seconds to get a young person engaged in community politics,” said Keesmaat on student civic engagement. “Mention: one, affordable housing and two, public transit.”

Affordable housing

When addressed with the issue of affordable housing, Keesmaat put forward her strategy of creating 100,000 affordable units on city-owned land, which she said would target both working- and middle-class families.

She also criticized incumbent Mayor John Tory’s housing strategy, saying that during his tenure as mayor, he sold city-owned land to developers to build luxury condominiums, which contributed to the already-skyrocketing real estate market.

Public transit

Keesmaat’s public transit plan was a prominent topic of discussion, especially her focus on Relief Line transit and the development of Line 3 Scarborough.

She added that she wants to develop a long-term transit plan to fix what she sees as the failure of the current state of Toronto public transit.

Keesmaat noted that property closest to transit is the most expensive for families, thus making it inconvenient to find an affordable home with a reliable transit route.

Additionally, she pointed to the overcrowding of Line 1 Yonge-University during rush hour leading to issues such as long waiting times and insufficient subway infrastructure.

Keesmaat was critical of Tory’s SMARTtrack plan, which she said has taken four years to build since Tory’s 2014 mayoral campaign and costs nearly $1.46 billion.

She plans to fund the cost of her transit plan through responsible funding and affordable fares.

The province has granted the city $5 billion for subway development, committing to cover one-third of the costs.

In her transit network plan, Keesmaat plans to reach out to marginalized communities and ensure a reliable transit network, specifically referring to the proposed Jane light rail.

Arts and culture in Toronto

When discussing the local Toronto arts and culture scene, Keesmaat encouraged the expansion of growing cultural hubs and programs.

She referenced the Artscape Weston Cultural Hub, a public space partnered with Artscape and Metrolink providing a creative space for artists and aimed at revitalizing an area in need of renewal. She emphasized that local arts employ 11 million people annually, though it often faces major budget cuts from the provincial government.

Keesmaat stresses that accessing the arts strengthens connections between and within neighbourhoods.

“Arts and culture are a way we build our identity, tell stories, and make sense of who we are as a society,” said Keesmaat.

City Council cuts

When asked about Premier Doug Ford’s decision to cut the number of city council wards from 47 to 25, Keesmaat responded that she “would not have traded democracy,” and emphasized the need for a strong mayor to stand up to the premier. She added that local democracy matters and that Ford needs to “mind his own business,” pointing to the $15 billion provincial deficit.

“Voting matters. Leadership has an impact on the quality of our lives.”