Alexander Peña surprised everyone when he stormed in demanding a chair at the Toronto–Danforth Council Candidates’ (New Ward 14) Debate on October 3 at the Centennial College Story Arts Centre during Chris Marinakis’ opening statement. Security quickly escorted him out.
He returned in time for the closing statements and was given a chair but decided to stand while expressing his concerns in a fiery two-minute speech.
“Sorry I couldn’t be here because I wasn’t invited,” candidate Peña said. “My main focus is to regulate rental apartments. It is not possible for anything built before 1980 to cost more than $950!”
“I’d also like people to get more involved in their communities. Walking around, you see that people don’t even talk to their neighbours so much. I think there’s less of a chance of crime when we have a strong community,” Peña told Beach Metro News after the debate.
Community Activities Coordinator and Professor of Journalism at Centennial College, Mary Vallis, organized the event. She said she tried reaching Peña but couldn’t find any of his contact information.
With the attendance of nine of the Ward 14 candidates, the debate was a significant milestone in the development of the Toronto–Danforth community. Informative, controversial and heated at times, the event included a debate between city council candidates and general inquiries, comments and questions from the public.
“I want to reflect on what this is really about. This is about local democracy. We’re down to 25 wards. For the City of Toronto, this is really our time to find out what the candidates want, what they have to offer and it is your turn to hear that,” said Nate Horowitz, Dean of the Story Arts Centre.
People sent in questions prior to the debate. Crime, gun violence, transportation, cycling, community involvement and affordable housing were the main topics covered.
“The candidates are all seated in alphabetical order. Each candidate will be given two minutes for an initial address, then we’ll move to questions. All of the questions have been gathered in advance. The journalism students here [at Centennial] have been out in the community connecting with residents about their concerns. We’ve also gathered questions by email and Google,” said CBC producer Samira Mohyeddin, the moderator for the evening.
Affordable housing was a looming topic during the debate. Residents in the area are worried about redevelopment, gentrification and the high cost of living in Toronto–Danforth.
“We have more people than ever looking for affordable housing. We have the most expensive housing and part of that is because of federal policy, but there are things that we can fix like mortgage rates, Bank of Canada rates and more,” said candidate Ryan Lindsay.
Public transit is another major concern for the Toronto–Danforth community. The candidates have all been working to implement safer and more efficient transportation initiatives for all of Toronto.
“There was a motion that I moved as part of the 2018 budget that took money from the parking authority dividend and put it towards dealing with overcrowding on buses. That is why, on Sept. 1, we added a lot of extra buses to routes like the Don Mills 25, the Leaside 56, the Rocket, the 185 and more,” said incumbent Mary Fragedakis.
There are two incumbents running in Ward 14, Fragedakis and Paula Fletcher. Some of the other candidates criticized them by saying they have not done much during their time in council. There was no rebuttal.
Candidate Lanrick Bennett Jr. received a great reaction from the audience when he mentioned term limits.
“I want to be a term limit candidate—a person that gets in, does some good stuff and then gets out of the way. I want to make sure we are bringing more of the community in to be part of what’s going on,” said Bennett in his closing statement.
The debate was designed to introduce people to the candidates’ platforms and address questions and concerns with election day fast approaching. Voting for the right Ward 14 candidate could mean the difference in everything from potholes to overcrowded buses and everyone knows that Toronto has plenty of both.