Normally when I set out to write up something on a city councillor candidate, I like to go and meet them on their home turf, get the lay of the land, feel the ground beneath my feet. Observe the species in their own habitat. I’m hands on, if nothing else.
But when it came to writing about Ward 7 York West, I was a little uneasy, if the truth be told. After hearing incessantly for the past 4 years from the long serving incumbent how Ward 7 never gets anything except for the short end of the municipal stick, all I could imagine was this barren wasteland with a mythical tall, tall flag pole and the regular u-turning of transport trucks. Surely only the forlorn and demented would call such a place home. I mean, where’s a guy going to get a latte while up there?
But I was convinced by candidate Keegan Henry-Mathieu to face my fears and head up Jane Street with him on a crowded, rush hour bus run. Squeezed on right from the outset and never really emptying out for the entire ride, we chatted about the campaign. From under one nearby armpit and over another backpack, I asked if transit was an issue for residents in Ward 7.
Spoiler alert: it is.
While we have these high concept transit debates – subways versus LRTs – Toronto residents find themselves packed on buses and streetcars, oftentimes with unreliable service and long wait times. This is particularly true in the bus-dependent suburbs of Toronto. Ward 7 will wait a 100 years for subway! declared its local representative, a stranger, I’m assuming, to using public transit to get around the city.
“You think you just got unlucky, getting onto a crowded bus,” Keegan tells me. “But the next one’s exactly the same. And the one after that.” And don’t get him started about waiting for a bus out here in the winter.
In what is becoming a trend for me as I talk to candidates in the suburban areas of the city, they face an uphill battle in engaging residents they meet in their wards. After years, decades, generations of largely being ignored by the people they send to City Hall, it’s difficult convincing them that it can be different, that change can happen. Civic engagement can’t just be flicked on.
So candidates like Mr. Henry-Mathieu knock on the doors of residents who don’t tend to have their doors knocked on by politicians seeking office. People whose connection to the city government is tenuous at best. Those who are usually not part of the wider political discussion.
He tells me he sees it most in the apartment buildings he canvasses, many of them in states of ill-repair, trash tucked away up in the ceilings in some. And property management MIA can be traced back straight to an MIA councillor. Vote for you? Why? What have you ever done for me?
For many residents in many wards of this city, it is a valid question.
After hopping off the bus long north of the 401, officially into Ward 7, Keegan and I continue to walk up Jane Street. (Turns out I’m not the first one he’s taken out for a neighbourhood stroll.) There are the usual strip malls and gas stations you would expect to find in these parts. But he points out all the largely unused green space on either side of the street, most of it surrounding apartment buildings.
With even the slightest bit of imagination and initiative, install some benches, tables, bbqs, you could create a real sense of community. Instead, what you have is a whole bunch of fenced in, unused space.
Don’t even get him started on slightly more ambitious ideas. Perfect spots for local farmers markets to bring healthy food into the neighbourhood. What about food trucks? Eye-balling it, I’d say there are plenty of areas 50 metres from the nearest fast food outlet. Why not bring some choice to a part of the city that lacks much of it?
Why not bring all sorts of fresh thinking to a part of the city that’s been lacking it for years now?
Henry-Mathieu is no stranger to talking and pushing policy ideas. He was part of the Toronto Youth Cabinet at City Hall for the better part of a decade before resigning recently to pursue a council seat. While certainly a natural progression, it stems also from a little bit of frustration.
His activism as a Youth Cabinet member helped deliver incremental change. He now wants to try and push harder, make bigger advances. Starting with improving opportunities for those living in Ward 7.
By all rights, this should be an open ward and a more level playing field for Keegan to take a run at. The sitting councillor, Giorgio Mammoliti, has spent much of this past term fending off, let’s just call them, greasy allegations. The latest, a damning report from the city’s Integrity Commissioner, accuses Mammoliti of pocketing some $80,000 from an illegal fundraiser attended by developers and other business types doing business with the city. And that’s just a ‘for example’.
In an ideal world, Giorgio Mammoliti would’ve been barred from seeking office again.
But this being Toronto city council, things don’t work out quite like that. Instead, he’s allowed to run for re-election, backed by questionable money and having delivered nothing of substance for his ward during his nearly 25 years in office, as M.P.P, North York and Toronto city councillor. Over the course of the last 4 years, he’s been nothing but a disruptive and destructive force, doing little more than establishing a name and reputation for himself.
If residents of Ward 7 are disengaged with local politics, it is almost exclusively to do with the fact that their elected representative at City Hall doesn’t care. It works to his advantage. Voter apathy is the key to a bad politician’s success.
Keegan Henry-Mathieu represents everything the man he’s trying to oust doesn’t. Optimism. Enthusiasm. Inclusion. A belief in positive change through both little and big steps. An expectation that things can be better through collective action.
The guy even found me a more than serviceable latte at a place called Commisso’s, located on a side street, in between two tire stores.
There’s no telling what he could do if voters in Ward 7 give him a shot at representing them at City Hall.
– hopefully submitted by Cityslikr