If I were a voter in Ward 17 Davenport, and I was forced to choose between the incumbent councillor Cesar Palacio and, say, Mr. Potato Head, I’d have to go with the plastic spud. You can pop his eye out when you’re mad at him, plus he sounds like Don Rickles. Neither of those qualities does Councillor Palacio possess.
Fortunately for voters in Ward 17, they won’t have to make that kind of choice. In contention this time around in the upcoming municipal election is Saeed Selvam. He is one of numerous new faces and new voices throughout Toronto running for city council in October. We really should be excited at the prospect of such a vibrant slate of newcomers putting their names forward as candidates. We just have to figure out a way to get them all elected.
Mr. Selvam is a long time social and community activist, going all the way back to high school. He was a member of the Toronto Youth Cabinet. He helped create the Youth Challenge Fund. He co-founded the SPARK Initiative. Most recently, Mr. Selvam managed the Your32 campaign for the CivicAction Alliance’s push for more dedicated transit funding.
I got kind of winded just listing the guy’s accomplishments.
When we sat down to chat last week, and with Mr. Selvam already out there knocking on doors in Ward 17, he told me that what he was attempting to do was engage the disengaged. Last time, voter turnout in the ward was a good 5% less than the city as a whole, one of the lowest of the 44 wards. There is a pool of voters out there, largely ignored. It’s a potent number if the right voice decides to speak to them.
While a lot of factors go in to determining voter turnout – personal income, home ownership versus renting, the weight of incumbency – I do think the quality of representation plays a significant part. If your councillor is something of a stiff, slow to respond to requests and questions, rarely venturing out into the wider community or connecting with them in a any regular and meaningful way, I tend to think they don’t generate a mad rush to the ballot box come election day. Apathy breeds apathy.
For Mr. Selvam, the local leadership in Ward 17 has been largely reactive not proactive. Nowhere is that more in evidence than the St. Clair streetcar right of way. Or the St. Clair Disaster as Councillor Palacio has been known to parrot regularly.
You notice the boundary line between wards 17 and 21 at Winona Drive. East of it in the ward represented by Joe Mihevc, an early and ardent supporter of the ROW, business has bounced back and is flourishing in fact. Part of that is as you head east you approach the St. Clair West subway station at Bathurst Street. The neighbourhoods nearby tend to get a little more upscale too, as you start to nudge into Forest Hill.
The other way, in Ward 17 the traffic snarls at the western end by the railway overpass that squeezes traffic near Weston Road. This presents the streetcar ROW as a problem not an opportunity for economic development. A disaster!
But Councillor Palacio was an opponent of the ROW from the get-go. He fought it, resisted it and wound up not prepared for the rebuild when the construction did finally end and the streetcars started running. So Ward 17 lags behind its eastern counterpart along St. Clair, at least in part, because the local councillor never accepted it or came to terms with it as an economic driver for his ward.
Mr. Selvam points out another under-utilized asset. Earlscourt Park, a strip of green space between Davenport and St. Clair, on the east side of Caledonia. It’s perfectly serviceable, according to Selvam but it could be so much more, much more of a true community gathering space.
Creating a stronger sense of community seems to be one of the main driving forces behind Saeed Selvam’s desire to serve Ward 17 at City Hall. While that may seem like little more than a platitude, an empty talking point, if that’s not every municipal politician’s political touchstone, then you have to question their ultimate motives. A community is only built through inclusion not exclusion. That can only really happen when you endeavour to open engagement to a wider segment of those you were elected to represent.
The truth is, it won’t be easy to unseat Councillor Palacio. He is a wily politician who has beaten back challenges from very impressive candidates over the past couple elections. This time around, however, he has the additional baggage of being one of the ardent supporters of our disgraced mayor, remaining loyal to the end. He needs to answer for such loyalty, explaining to every one of his residents how that helped them in their daily lives.
Once again, Ward 17 Davenport has the chance to elect a representative to City Hall who better reflects the new realities of their neighbourhoods and communities. A new voice seeking a wider engagement with a constituency bigger than just those who voted for him. Saeed Selvam represents an opportunity for not just the ward he wants to represent but for the entire city to press the reset button and put the mess of the last 4 years behind us. To get on with the task of real city building.
– helpfully submitted by Cityslikr