Talking to Paul Bocking about Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest, it’s difficult to imagine how it sent the current councillor to City Hall to represent it. As seen through Mr. Bocking’s lens, Ward 35 has the second lowest average family income in the city, the residents depend heavily on bus travel to get around, there is a prevalence of aging apartment towers.
And yet when you think of the incumbent, Michelle Berardinetti, what immediately springs to mind about her work in her first term is the Scarborough subway, bike lane removal and elephants.
Paul Bocking sees this election as one about inequality. (Yesterday’s news about the alarming rate of children living in poverty in Toronto certainly emphasizes that point.) Ward 35 is full of working class neighbourhoods hit hard by the collapse of the local manufacturing base. Former good paying jobs now replaced by minimum wage, temporary employment. Small businesses unsuccessfully competing with nearby big box stores. A car dependent area of the city under-serviced by public transit. A destination for new Canadians looking to put down community roots.
Many of the solutions to the problems ailing places like Ward 35 are at the macro level, beyond the reach of local politicians. But the answer to that is not simply ignoring the problems, hoping another level of government will sort everything out. It’s the job of a city councillor to highlight those problems and to use what tools are available to alleviate them, to create a dynamic where positive change is possible.
This goes beyond simply keeping taxes low. It’s about investing in communities. Creating opportunities for everyone to better their lives. This is something’s that’s done door-to-door, street-by-street.
Bocking is no stranger to that kind of community activism. He has been part of the fight against TTC fare hikes and cuts to service, delivering a deputation on that topic during the 2012 budget fight. He is a big proponent of the community benefits program, fighting to ensure that when major public infrastructure projects like the Eglinton Crosstown LRT are built, jobs and training are made available to local residents. As a high school teacher, Bocking is well aware of the disconnect between school boards and city council. He’d like to see more integrated programs between the two and a reassessment of the fees charged by schools to use their facilities which, currently, are priced far beyond the reach of many local groups.
It is an approach most notable for its ground up activism rather than a top down, edict like proclamation style. If elected city councillor, Bocking vows a much more inclusionary engagement with residents. There were few community consultations on very important issues that arose over the course of the past 4 years, including the subway-LRT debates, a waterfront casino, budgets. As a fan of movements like Participatory Budgeting, Bocking would change that, endeavouring to seek resident input before big decisions are made.
He admits that the Scarborough subway is an issue when he goes knocking at the door but he senses people aren’t as committed to the idea as subway advocates claim. When the merits of the LRT get pointed out – serving more people and more communities – many don’t seem as vehemently opposed. Again, it’s all about better community engagement.
For Bocking, the subway debate is more of an abstract issue. Something that, even if it comes to pass, is a decade away at best. It won’t help anyone in Ward 35 now. Certainly not as much as improving the current TTC service will. Certainly not like ensuring tenants’ needs are addressed. Certainly not the way increasing the accessibility and affordability of children’s programs would.
The best city councillors don’t simply represent their community. They build their community. That isn’t accomplished fighting ideological battles or stirring up resentment toward other wards or areas of the city. Community isn’t built from above. It’s created through engagement and listening to the concerns and ideas expressed by each and every member of it.
Paul Bocking seems to have a knack and predisposition for that kind of work. If we’re to bridge the so-called urban-suburban divide that currently afflicts municipal politics here in Toronto, we have to hope places like Ward 35 elect candidates like Bocking as their city councillor in order that they actually join in on our collective conversation instead of being relegated to shouting from the sidelines. We need to start hearing from them not about them.
As a city councillor, Paul Bocking seems determined to give residents of Ward 35 a voice rather than be the voice for them. Real civic engagement starts right there.
– hopefully submitted by Cityslikr