By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
In 2022, Toronto generated some of its lowest voter turnouts during the October municipal election with only 29.7 per cent of eligible voters casting their ballot. Months later, after the resignation of then Mayor John Tory, a mayoral byelection took place in June of 2023 with a turnout that, although still low, garnered more public attention with 38 per cent of the more than 1.89 million eligible voters in Toronto participating.
And with Ward 20 Scarborough Southwest now gearing up for a byelection for city councillor on Nov. 30, community groups are hopeful that a similar trend of increased voter turnout will be seen.
The councillor byelection became necessary due to the resignation of Scarborough Southwest Councillor Gary Crawford who relinquished his seat earlier this year in order to run for the Progressive Conservatives in the July 27 byelection held for the vacant Scarborough-Guildwood MPP position. That provincial byelection was won by Liberal Andrea Hazell.
Scarborough United Neighbourhoods (SUN), a non-partisan public policy group of local residents, is urging voters in Scarborough Southwest to make their voices heard as they attempt to generate more interest in the Nov. 30 byelection.
“If we get an 80 per cent turnout, then whoever wins will realize that people are (watching closely),” said Ron Parkinson, a member of SUN and lifelong southwest Scarborough resident.
He told Beach Metro Community News that SUN is collaborating with various community groups in neighbourhoods such as Scarborough Junction, Birchcliff, Warden Woods and Cliffcrest in order to encourage eligible residents to vote in the byelection.
“We’ll also be hosting a ‘market place’ before November so that we can get information (about candidates) to people,” said Parkinson.
At that event candidates will have the opportunity to meet with residents to further explain their campaign platforms, he said. Participants will be able to address candidates directly in a face-to-face interaction, added Parkinson. A time and date for that event has yet to be finalized.
SUN is also preparing to obtain voter information from the City of Toronto to distribute throughout Ward 20 as well as confirming various other candidate meetings which residents can attend as part of their community engagement strategy.
“Talking to the group leaders, they are very adamant and excited about getting people to vote because we don’t want to have someone who becomes our next councillor with just 3,000 votes,” said Parkinson.
In the October 2022 municipal election, Crawford was elected councillor for Scarborough Southwest for his fourth term in a row with 8,216 votes. A total of eight candidates sought the seat, and the voter turnout was 32.2 per cent. In the 2018 municipal election, voter turnout in Scarborough Southwest was 40.8 per cent.
Although byelections generally draw less attention from voters, many candidates have shown interest in becoming Scarborough Southwest’s next councillor.
As of noon on Friday, Sept. 29, 14 people had registered to run for the position. Candidates who have put their names in so far are Malik Ahmad, Corey David, Malika Ghous, Thomas Hall, Jessica Hines, Marzia Hoque, Alamgir Hussain, Parthi Kandavel, Abbullah Al Mamun, Suman Roy, Kevin Rupasinghe, Sudip Shome, Anna Sidiropoulos and Trevor Sutton.
Kandavel finished second to Crawford in the 2022 municipal election and Rupasinghe was third. Also, Ghous is the Toronto District School Board trustee for Scarborough Southwest, elected to that position for the first time in the 2022 municipal election.
There is a deadline of 2 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 16, for candidates to register to run in the Scarborough Southwest councillor byelection.
Parkinson said that with much of Toronto dealing with the impacts of an affordability crisis, more work is necessary to maintain a healthy level of community engagement in the political process.
“People that are marginal, working multiple jobs and going to the food banks, don’t have much trust in the politicians or politics,” he said. “They don’t think they have a vote. Many residents are too busy or too frustrated with politics to think that they can make a difference.”
Scarborough United Neighbourhoods aims to eradicate this perception within the community as well as removing the idea of partisanship from municipal politics.
“It shouldn’t be about parties,” said Parkinson. “A lot of people will vote just because of a colour instead of voting for the person who is really going to support you. We want people that are going to represent and support our community.”
— 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.