‘Toxic’ state of politics among reasons Beaches-East York MPP Rima Berns-McGown will not be running for second term

Beaches-East York NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown announced earlier this month that she will not be running for re-election in this June's provincial election. Berns-McGown was first elected MPP for the riding in the 2018 provincial election.


Beaches-East York MPP Rima Berns-McGown announced earlier this month she will not be running in this June’s provincial election.

Berns-McGown won the seat for the NDP in the 2018 election, and it had seemed earlier this year that she would be seeking re-election. However, on March 10 she announced she would be a one-term MPP and would not be the NDP’s candidate in Beaches-East York in the provincial election set for June 2.

In her announcement, Berns-McGown said:

“Because I am a deeply introverted person, this job takes an enormous toll. For my well-being, I’ve decided not to run for re-election. This decision was difficult to make, because I am so proud of the work we’ve been able to do in Beaches-East York.”

In an interview with Beach Metro Community News last week, Berns-McGown expanded on the reasons she was not running again which include the toll the nastiness of politics and political criticism was taking on her, along with the realities of being a politician during what has been an extraordinary past four years.

“I feel as if I’ve served 12 years in four. What a time to be an MPP, and I was someone who never set out to be a politician,” she said of the challenges faced by a being a member of the Official Opposition to Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Berns-McGown said being a politician was not something she had thought she would do prior to be asked to run as the NDP candidate in Beaches-East York in the 2018 election. In that election, she won the riding over Liberal incumbent Arthur Potts.

“In 2017, when the riding association first approached me, the first words out of my mouth were I’m an introvert and this is not what I want to do,” said Berns-McGown.

However, once elected she took on the job with passion and energy.

“There were important things that needed to be said and I had to step up and say what I had to say. What a time. I was critic for Poverty and Homelessness and there is such a need for systemic change. That really came to the fore during this time,” said Berns-McGown.

Some of the issues she fought fiercely for over the past four years include standing against racism, protecting tenants rights during the pandemic, being an advocate for the homeless, and battling provincial transit agency Metrolinx’s plans for Small’s Creek.

Born in South Africa of a mixed background, three of her four grandparents were Ashkenzai Jews and her paternal grandmother was Cape Coloured and an Afrikaner, her parents moved the family to Montreal because of Apartheid.

Growing up she said she experienced both anti-Black and anti-Semitic racism. As an MPP, Berns-McGown was a member of the Ontario NDP’s Black Caucus.

She said she is very proud of the work she had done against racism while an MPP.

Berns-McGown worked closely with all parties after anti-Black graffiti was found at a Michael Garron Hospital construction site, trying to dig into the systemic causes of why it happened and finding real solutions.

“It was not just reacting to the incidents at the hospital but finding out what can the union, the landowner, the company, the hospital do about it,” she said.

“When people had problems dealing with anti-Black racism, I was able to connect them with others within the riding.”

Helping tenants facing evictions and making a difference a the Tribunals Ontario Landlord Tenant Board was also a key moment in her time as MPP, said Berns-McGown.

“We were able to overturn those evictions at the Landlord Tenant Board, and participated in an historic process. That was enormous and I am so very proud of that work.”

However, standing up for those who do not hold the power made her a target of those who did.

Along with being an introvert, Berns-McGown said she is also an empathetic person who feels “peoples’ pain and their problems as my own.”

Which made the attacks and abuse she was subjected to on social media, and from politicians who did not agree with her, that much harder to deal with.

“It’s not the same for a white man in politics,” she said of the abuse she was subjected to. “I’m capable of intellectually separating the fact that people would take shots at a politician, but the vile stuff, the terrible comments on social media, they take a toll.”

The nature of the criticisms against her, along with the “toxic” culture in Queen’s Park, made her realize she was not prepared to do another term in politics.

“You know it’s coming, the attacks, the comments…but why people think it is acceptable to speak to someone in that way is beyond understanding,” said Berns-McGown. “Who raised them? That sense of entitlement is terrifying. I just can’t do it anymore.”

The level of nastiness at Queen’s Park was also extremely disappointing and disillusioning, she said.

“And even at Queen’s Park, you would have thought elected people would behave better. But you have these toxic games being played by politicians.”

She said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic altering the plans the majority Ford government had for Ontario, being the Official Opposition was an extremely tough job.

“It’s a terrible indictment of our system as they (the Ford government) spent their first six months undoing everything the Liberals had done… And then they faced the backlash.”

Berns-McGown said Ford’s government is not one that “gives any though to doing anything based on evidence.”

“I think it will be really terrible if they are re-elected… Their ideological plans got pushed back this term because of COVID but they are still there and those who might have been a voice of reason have left.”

Berns-McGown said she will playing no role in who the Beaches-East York NDP Riding Association names as their candidate the upcoming provincial election, but she will offer her wholehearted support to that person.

“We have an incredibly rich pool of smart people to draw from,” she said of the local NDP riding association. “They’ve been so kind and compassionate to me.”

Berns-McGown said come this June’s election, voters and candidates need to listen to all the voices that make up the Beaches-East York riding.

“I ask the electorate and all the political representatives to listen to all the voices in the riding – especially those who are most economically and socially marginalized…Many residents living in rental housing for decades are being renovicted and they will not be able to live here anymore. They lived here for years and their whole life is here and they will have to move away. Having them leave the community will not make it better.

“All the micro-communities that are here, we do not want to be kicking people out of them; be careful about that. When you vote, vote for all the voices.”

Prior to her election in 2018, Berns-McGown was a writer, researcher and educator. In the future,  she plans to write a book on her experiences as an MPP.

“I want to write a book about my experiences at Queen’s Park. There are real issues with our political system and how toxic, how unnecessarily toxic, it is and how hard that makes it to get the things done that need to be done.”

She also thanked the residents of the community for their support for her over the past four years. “It really has been an honour and I loved representing this community.”

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