By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Beaches-East York Interfaith Committee of local religious organizations recently hosted an event for voters to meet with local candidates running for Toronto Council.
The event took place at Kimbourne United Church on Wolverleigh Boulevard on Oct.6. Presented in a meet-and-greet format, the evening gave voters the opportunity to have open conversations with Toronto Council candidates for Ward 19 Beaches-East York in advance of the municipal election.
In attendance were candidates Sebastien Auger, Brad Bradford, Donna Braniff, Frank Marra, Adam Smith, and Steven Thompson. Candidate Jennie Worden was unable to take part but had a representative, Kaila Hunte, present an open letter to the attendees on her behalf.
Prior to the meet-and-greet, all candidates were given two minutes to introduce themselves and their vision for Beaches-East York. They were especially encouraged to explain how they plan on tackling Toronto’s food insecurity during a time that has seen the use of food banks increase by 170 per cent according to the Daily Bread Food Bank.
Following the opening statements, guests were able to walk around to each table and partake in independent conversations with the candidates.
As incumbent, Bradford spoke first before passing the microphone clockwise. He outlined an important relationship between food insecurity and housing affordability.
“The city is increasingly getting less and less affordable,” said Bradford.
He highlighted Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy which includes the Black Food Sovereignty Plan, “the first plan in North America that makes sure folks from the Black community have resources and autonomy” as well as support programs to help communities that have historically had challenges with food insecurity.
“My view skews towards the future,” said Bradford. “When it comes to affordable housing, climate change, making our streets safer and supporting small businesses, these are my priorities. And I work with the community to make sure that we have a collaborative approach.”
Braniff used the start of her time to acknowledge the “great work that our frontline workers have done” during the past couple years of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a 35-year resident of the Beach and a volunteer with the Royal Canadian Legion, she emphasized the importance of hearing out the community.
“My action plan is pretty simple,” said Braniff. “Listen, act, and communicate.”
Braniff ran out of time before she could finish reading her prepared statement but revealed plans to better accommodate senior citizens during the personal conversations with guests.
Next to speak, on behalf of Worden, was Hunte. She relayed Worden’s apology for her absence to the guests before continuing on with a statement that covered a brief background on Worden and her plan to tackle food insecurity.
“Access to adequate supplies of affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food is a fundamental human right,” Worden’s statement said. “Those who do not come out in strong support of this principle are undeserving of any of our votes.”
Like Bradford, she spoke of the correlation between Toronto’s food insecurity and housing affordability and promised to “champion the allocation of resources to create a new food charter” using the Black Food Sovereignty Plan as a blueprint.
As a result of his years of work battling food insecurity in the city through the Beach Community Edible Garden, Smith showed confidence in the night’s main topic of discussion. He told guests of his time growing food for the local food bank, Nourish East End, as he made his case as an individual who cares about the livelihoods of his community members.
“I recognize that I’ve lived a life of privilege and opportunity and that’s why I feel like it’s my duty to give back to my community,” said Smith.
He spoke about the persistence of inequality and discrimination in Toronto and as well as the city’s shrinking middle class. To close his statement, Smith talked about the importance of a plan to tackle the global climate crisis before asking guests to join him “in building a more sustainable Toronto”.
Thompson’s plans shared similarities to Smith’s in the sense that he put much importance on an increase in community gardens. He told guests that he plans on working in close proximity to charities, not-for-profits, and community initiatives “to support their work in alleviating food insecurity in our city”.
He mentioned Little Free Pantries Project and Food Share as organizations which he is interested in collaborating with to bring further stability to lives of Torontonians. Following his introduction, he spoke with guests about the idea of new condo developments providing more green space and also for a percentage of the units to be affordable.
“Any development over a particular size needs to have a percentage of affordable rental units so that [affordable housing] is well distributed throughout the city,” said Thompson.
He said that the city should require developers to incorporate community gardens into their projects so as to leave the neighbourhoods in better shape than before they started, rather than simply building for profit.
Frank Marra, a 12 year resident of Beaches-East York, spoke to his personal inexperience in the conversation of food insecurity but he aimed to outline some issues that bring about such a problem. He also talked about the city’s affordability crisis and growing inflation.
At his table, during the individual conversations, guests spoke to him about issues with bike lanes and modular housing developments. He depicted frustration with the pace at which councillors tackle issues brought to them by community members, said he would be a go-getter councilor if elected.
Auger, a small business owner, kept his speech simple. He had three priorities that he believed would solve many of Toronto’s issues in an efficient manner.
First on his list was customer service. Like Marra, he believed that the councillor’s office needs to be a place where community members dictate the priorities rather than the other way around. Secondly, he proposed that local issues are dealt with first before city-wide problems. And third was the removal of red-tape and any barriers that prevent “common sense solutions to be implemented”.
Auger also called for the reassignment of some police responsibilities to cater to the needs of people with mental health issues.
“If we’re going to send someone to the encampments, for example, it should be a social worker first and not a police officer.”
Regarding food insecurity, he believes that it’s time to move quickly. He said he aims to bring more awareness to the problem. He also proposed that farmers donate a percentage of their produce to food banks.
Beaches-East York voters have their final chance to cast a ballot at an advance poll today, Friday, Oct. 14, until 7 p.m. Advance poll locations in Beaches-East York are the Beaches Recreation Centre, 6 Williamson Rd.; and at the Secord Community Centre, 91 Barrington Ave.
Election Day in Toronto is Monday, Oct. 24.
Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.