Three new pedestrian crossovers proposed for Queen’s Park

Final decision to be made on December 17 by City Council

Three new pedestrian crossovers proposed for Queen’s Park

Students trying to cross Queen’s Park may be able to walk with more security as Toronto’s Transportation Services (TS) has proposed three new pedestrian crossovers at popular jaywalking spots. If the measures receive final approval on December 17 from City Council, construction is estimated to begin during the summer of 2021.

Following consultations, the university proposed crossings at areas around Queen’s Park where pedestrians naturally tend to cross. The points of interest were an area at the north roadway of Queen’s Park on Queen’s Park Crescent East; a point on Queen’s Park Crescent West, south of Hoskin Avenue; and a point on Queen’s Park Crescent West, slightly north of the south leg. The study was conducted in April by the TTC, where it observed pedestrian traffic in those three areas during the busiest eight-hour period of weekdays.

The study found that all but the third noted area of concern justified installing a pedestrian crossover, since they had high pedestrian volume and consistent pedestrian delay. Queen’s Park Crescent West, south of Hoskin Avenue, had the highest amount of pedestrian crossings, with 1,323 crossings in the eight-hour period.

Based on these findings, TS recommended installing crossovers in all areas, despite none of the areas meeting all of the standards for pedestrian crossings, as Queen’s Park has nearby driveways and turning movements, alongside three lanes of one-way traffic on both Queen’s Park Crescent East and West. The areas are also in close proximity to other pedestrian crossovers and driveways.

A 2017 investigation by The Varsity found four major road accidents around Queen’s Park in a 10-year period.

Should City Council give final approval during the December 17 meeting, the time between approval and activation would be around 18 months, according to the city. “Traffic control signal installation could be reasonably expected during the summer of 2021,” wrote a city spokesperson in an email to The Varsity. The cost would be about $360,000, depending on the availability of funding.

A report by TS cited U of T traffic as the main reason for requesting the crossings, to improve connectivity and safety. U of T constitutes a “distinct region of urban parkland in the city’s downtown core,” according to the report, which also cited the Ontario Legislative Building, which is built on Queen’s Park, along with its numerous historical monuments as reasons for the new crossovers.

The crossings at Queen’s Park are part of a larger effort by U of T to make the campus more friendly to pedestrians, according to Christine Burke, Director of Campus & Facilities Planning.

“The university proposed these new crossings and we’re very pleased they are moving forward,” wrote Burke in an email to The Varsity. “From consultations, we learned that these crossings are all natural routes for pedestrians, including people travelling back and forth from the University of St. Michael’s College and Victoria University on the east side of Queen’s Park.”

Toronto City Council approves transit deal with province, against SCSU wishes

The expansion plan excludes Eglinton East LRT, which would stop at UTSC

Toronto City Council approves transit deal with province, against SCSU wishes

On October 29, Toronto City Council approved a transit deal with the Ontario government, whereby the province will cover the cost, planning, design, and construction of four new subway projects: the Ontario Line, the Yonge Street Subway Extension, the Line 2 East Extension, which will see three stops added to Line 2 deeper into Scarborough, and the Eglinton West light rail transit (LRT).

The deal has been met with student opposition, particularly at the UTSC campus. Not included in the provincial plan is the Eglinton East LRT which would extend the planned Eglinton West LRT eastward and include a stop at UTSC.

SCSU urges city to prioritize Scarborough transit users

At an executive meeting of City Council on October 23, Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) President Chemi Lhamo had asked city councillors to not “approve a plan that leaves the Eglinton East [LRT] out of the map. Unite with the students and transit users in Scarborough.”

Lhamo, as well as SCSU Vice-President, Campus Life, Sarah Mohamed, urged City Council to prioritize the needs of underserved Scarborough transit users, specifically those of UTSC students.

At the October 23 meeting, Lhamo and Mohamed proceeded to explain in greater detail some of the difficulties of using transit to commute to UTSC. Lhamo highlighted in particular her experience with delays of the 905 bus, which stops at UTSC. In addition, Lhamo pointed out that students who take the Durham bus from UTSC, which is not allowed to use TTC routes, are forced to wait on a lawn with no bus stop.

“It’s not safe, there’s no sidewalk,” explained Mohamed.

“We have been promised [the Eglinton East LRT] from year to year but have continuously been sidelined,” Lhamo wrote to The Varsity, adding that the line could cut down the commute of some students by more than 30 minutes.

The City of Toronto’s response

Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, who represents ScarboroughRouge Park where UTSC is located, noted that Scarborough’s most recent rail-based transit update took place in 1985.

Mayor John Tory acknowledged that disagreement exists on the idea of the provincial government paying for additions to Toronto’s subway. However, Tory pointed out that this would free up funding for the city to implement proposals such as the Eglinton East LRT. “As much as you’re critical of some aspects of this deal, [this] would be a step forward to getting the Eglinton [East] LRT built,” said Tory.

Tory’s Executive Director of Communications, Don Peat, clarified in an email to The Varsity that this transit deal would free up $5 billion for the city to put toward keeping existing Toronto transit in good repair and investing in other transit expansion projects, including the Eglinton East LRT.

Postsecondary TTC fares may be reduced in response to Ford government’s policies

Motion result of advocacy by the University of Toronto Students’ Union

Postsecondary TTC fares may be reduced in response to Ford government’s policies

Students may soon be seeing lower TTC fares as Toronto City Council passed a motion at the start of this month for the TTC’s governance board to explore options for further discounted fares for postsecondary students.

The Toronto City Council consideration stemmed from the Ontario government’s decisions to implement the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which enables university students to opt out of non-essential incidental fees, and to reduce postsecondary financial aid from the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

In a 22–1 vote, the council passed a consideration titled, “Exploring Options for Affordable Toronto Transit Commission Fares for Post-Secondary Students.” The motion was introduced by Councillor Mike Layton and was seconded by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. It passed without amendments.

Motion motivated to address affordability crisis

By passing the proposal, City Council has requested the TTC Commission Board — the City of Toronto agency that oversees the TTC’s policy matters — to review options for lower fares for postsecondary students.

Potential options include a lower single fare and a further discounted monthly transit pass for postsecondary students. The council has also further requested the board to take the Ontario government’s changes to the universities’ fee systems into account, and to “report back in the 2020 Budget process.”

“The costs of commuting [are] one of the most pressing affordability issues facing those attending post-secondary institutions,” wrote Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão in an email to The Varsity. Bailão voted to pass the motion.

“I supported this motion at Toronto City Council because I believe we need to review options about how we can assist students in our City.”

Motion opposed by Councillor Stephen Holyday

Councillor Stephen Holyday was the sole council member who opposed the motion. In an interview with The Varsity, he explained his belief that the motion may ultimately result in increased costs for non-postsecondary students.

To fund further discounts for postsecondary students, Holyday said that fares for other groups, such as adults, may increase. He also contended that it could result in a heavier burden on taxpayers.

Holyday sees the motion as a “swipe at the provincial government’s policies,” as he is unsupportive of disunity between the council and other orders of government.

Layton disputed the justification for Holyday’s position. He said that while it is possible that fares for non-postsecondary students may increase, it was not a certainty. He also maintained that the TTC has other sources of revenue to fund the discount.

Layton further noted that there are different ways for the board to balance the TTC’s budget. He said that it would be atypical for the board to fund the discount by adjusting fare prices for other users. Instead, it may be funded by the tax revenue provided by the city to the TTC.

He further emphasized that the motion is a continuation of a standing position of the City Council.

“We had a program to provide subsidies to postsecondary students, and then the provincial government changed their fare system for postsecondary students,” Layton said. “Now we have to adjust our program in order to meet the reality of this new opt-out policy.”

Origins from U of T student advocacy

The consideration was prompted by an open letter sent to the council by multiple Ontario student unions, including the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union.

Lucas Granger, UTSU Vice-President, External Affairs, explained to The Varsity that the efforts originated with the failure of the UTSU to fund U-Pass in the 2018 referendum, which Granger said would have lowered fees for commuters. Due to the SCI, the Ontario government has mandated that “only those transit pass programs with fully executed agreements” prior to January 17 can be considered compulsory.

In September, Granger spoke at a community liaison meeting between student unions and city representatives. He later explained the circumstances in a meeting with Layton, who introduced a relevant motion to the council. Granger then drafted an open letter to the council in favour of the motion, ahead of its vote.

According to him, he also emailed student unions across Toronto to support the letter.

As the TTC’s governance board explores options, Granger plans to continue to advocate for and pursue lower transit fares for postsecondary students.

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.

For Ward 13, I’m with Walied Khogali Ali

In a frightening political climate, the progressive, community-based and charismatic leadership of the UTM alum provides hope for Toronto

For Ward 13, I’m with Walied Khogali Ali

It’s a warm and sunny Sunday mid-afternoon. The soca is bumping and the scents of beef and masala patties fill the air. Friends both old and new acquaint themselves through hugs and handshakes as the bustling chatter grows louder. We’ve all gathered in eager anticipation of the guest of honour: Walied Khogali Ali.

When Khogali arrives at the scene — the backyard of his campaign office on Carlton Street near Regent Park — he grabs hold of a microphone to address his supporters. My eyes scan the scene before me, registering both the sight of an impassioned man delivering a gracious, heartfelt rallying cry, as well as the hopeful, inspired, and attentive expressions plastered upon the faces of audience members.

In what feels more like a block party than anything political, I realize that Khogali’s campaign is the product of an entire community, here to celebrate and support a young man they’ve seen grow before their eyes.

The UTM alum has been working hard on his bid for City Council in Ward 13 Toronto Centre. Between Khogali’s optimism, gratitude, charisma, and vision, it is difficult not to rally behind this man with a plan for Toronto.

A record of social justice

Khogali is originally from Sudan and has been a fixture in Regent Park ever since he and his family settled in the community in 2005. As one of seven kids, he never misses the opportunity to gush about his family. His mom often accompanies him to functions, ensuring that energetic, young volunteers never leave the office with empty stomachs.

Khogali evidently has strong familial and community ties, which have informed a decorated record of service and leadership all centred around critical social justice and human rights issues in our city. He’s fearless in fighting back for those he cares about.

For instance, he co-founded the Coalition Against White Supremacy and Islamophobia, a cohort of some 170 organizations dedicated to anti-racism work. He’s been a leader in environmental justice and student movements, serving as president of the Toronto Environmental Alliance and Executive Director of the UTM Students’ Union. He also co-founded TTCriders, a transit advocacy group. And he has held key positions in the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council and the city’s Labour Community Services, and worked to support underserved Toronto communities with United Way.

Impressively, though he is a young politician, he’s not one to rest on his laurels. I can think of no better figure than Khogali who symbolizes the strength, resilience, and perseverance that Toronto desperately needs to weather a stormy political climate.

The reality of racism in Toronto politics

Khogali is a Black Muslim immigrant, perched at the intersections of insidious anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia that lurk in the underbelly of Toronto’s government and people — even among self-congratulatory ‘progressives.’

Indeed, currently elected officials — including Mayor John Tory and councillor Giorgio Mammoliti — have made questionable comments about young Black men, labelling them as “sewer rats,” “cockroaches,” and “thugs” in discussions regarding violence citywide and social housing tenancy in Jane and Finch. Such hateful rhetoric often gets swept under the rug.

However, what is perhaps even more dangerous about all this is that it also emboldens other, more opportunistic politicians to capitalize on a narrative of violence, perpetuating their own hateful rhetoric while dressing it up as an innovative solution or ‘safety’ initiative.

For instance, Toronto’s most infamous mayoral candidate is a white nationalist whose campaign to “Make Toronto Safe Again” revolves around the view that refugees and Muslims are threats.

It is difficult to imagine how pushing out some of Toronto’s most vulnerable, marginalized communities that are fleeing conflict and persecution would make the city safer. I urge fellow students and all Torontonians to consider sensationalist figures like the aforementioned a serious threat. These kinds of candidates are not standalone; they are woven into the fabric of even the province at large.

After all, Premier Doug Ford had initially declined to address the photos he has posed for with the aforementioned white nationalist. Recall that it was Ford himself who was going to attempt to override the Charter, all to arbitrarily reduce the size of Toronto’s city council just weeks before the election. This has seriously compromised the ability of newcomer candidates from racialized communities to enter municipal politics.

Investing in youth

It is clear that the politics around us is steeped in racism. Despite such a negative political climate in Toronto, I still hold out hope for a brighter future because of leaders like Khogali who symbolize resistance. I believe that he can keep these regressive politicians in check.

He has already publicly confronted Ford about the possible restoration of Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy — a “racist police division,” which was ineffective and known for its use of carding, the stopping and questioning of individuals when no particular offence is being investigated — at a Somali-Canadian forum earlier this year. Khogali shared that the program actually “traumatized” many racialized youth with whom he had spoken. Many other concerned audience members applauded the response.

Indeed, Khogali’s work as a mentor and role model for racialized, newcomer, and other marginalized youth from his own community are what all leaders should aspire to become. It provides an opportunity to challenge the dynamics in the status quo.

After all, the youth of this city have so many challenges to overcome. Between the threats of violence, the impossibility of home ownership in a skyrocketing real estate market, and questionable government cuts to essential programs, we need young leaders who are focused on making our youth confident in their futures and proud to call Toronto home.

We can see proof in the solutions that Khogali has proposed for issues that affect racialized youth. Rather than cut essential programs and beef up the police, as Ford desires, Khogali is focused on investment.

He wants to ensure that youth have options for postsecondary education, access to programs in which they can develop leadership skills and civic engagement, and opportunities for recreational programs to build life skills, like swimming. These positive changes would represent the first step toward a safer and more productive Toronto.

The stride to match the swagger

Khogali’s commitment to anti-racism, among many other reasons, is why he is the perfect choice for the council selection in Ward 13. The ward — including Regent Park, Cabbagetown, and St. James Town — has 19 candidates who are all vying to represent a population of around 100,000.

Unlike some others, though, Khogali is not a career politician — he’s a grassroots activist and organizer, who has tirelessly dedicated years of his life to community-led initiatives meant to affect change. He has no money to spend on YouTube ads, hundreds of lawn signs, or cash incentives for prospective voters. His campaign has been fuelled by the generous support of his community, which has come together to stand and fight alongside him.

Khogali stands out because of his progressive platform, which includes affordable housing and transit, commitment to poverty eradication through familial support and job creation, and inclusive and hate-free community building.

It is not built on empty promises. From implementing the province’s first U-Pass program in his UTM days to organizing a national day of action in February 2017 in response to Trump’s Muslim ban, he has a history of fighting for important causes.

For the youth, for the marginalized, and for the future — I’m with Walied Khogali Ali.

Jaime McLaughlin is a third-year History and Political Science student at University College.