By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As we move closer to the Nov. 30 Scarborough Southwest byelection, residents are growing increasingly curious about the candidates who are hoping to represent their needs as councillor at Toronto City Hall.
On Thursday, Nov. 9, eight out of the 23 candidates running for Ward 20 councillor participated in a forum at the Birchmount Community Centre. Participating candidates were Corey David, Walayat Khan, Kevin Rupasinghe, Suman Roy, Marzia Hoque, Parthi Kandavel, MD Abdullah Al Mamun, and Jessica Hines.
Interest from the public was strong as more than 200 residents – in person and virtually – tuned in to watch the event.
The candidates that attended were split between three tables. Unfortunately, each table received a different question which left some residents who wanted to hear what specific candidates had to say on certain issues unsatisfied.
One topic that every candidate did get to equally voice their opinions on, however, was on the issue of tax increases.
Hoque expressed her opposition to proposed tax increases. She highlighted the current affordability crisis as the driving force behind her unwavering criticism of this strategy.
“If you go on Kingston Road, all the way to Ajax, all the motels [have become] shelters. What a horrific situation in our city,” said Hoque. “I have a dream to do something for people –to do something for my neighbours.”
Hoque said that her main focus as Ward 20 councillor would be to tackle the affordable housing issue the city currently faces as well as nurturing a community with food security.
Khan took a similar position as Hoque with a strong opposition to increased taxes. With fixing the housing crisis at the top of his to-do list, he is against an increase in taxes in a city he believes has no accountability for the way tax dollars are spent.
“We need more accountability in our government,” said Khan. “We pay the tax, and they use our money however they want. This must be controlled, how much of your money they spend.”
Hines, although not as hardline on taxes as Hoque or Khan, agreed about the importance of accountability. Ultimately, however, she showed support for the use of property tax increases as a revenue tool to tackle Toronto’s financial deficit.
“We need to see what we are doing with the current budget right now and then we can make a better and fair assessment as to whether or not to increase or decrease our taxes,” said Hines.
Hines, who has experience as an affordable housing organizer in Toronto’s west end, believes she can bring her expertise to Scarborough where she sporadically lived over the years.
Kandavel had a more firm stance on the idea of tax increases. He believes that raising property taxes is the last resort the city currently has to supplement council’s inability to secure other revenue tools that can meet Toronto’s financial demands.
“Remember carefully those who voted no to raising property tax,” said Kandavel. “Because it’s either they don’t understand how municipal government works or they’re lying to you.”
Others who were in favour of property tax increases included Roy and David. The remaining candidates–Hoque, Mamun, Rupasinghe, and Khan–said they were against it.
During the event, Kandavel emphasized his willingness to be accessible to community members in order to properly engage with their various needs.
With accessibility to the councillor being a regular complaint in the ward’s past, Kandavel said he will bring the same approach to Toronto City Hall that he used as a Scarborough Southwest’s Toronto District School Board Trustee from 2014 to 2022.
“We’ll have community working groups set up in the first 90 days for all the major developments happening with Scarborough Junction, Golden Mile, Kingston Road, and the Quarry Lands,” said Kandavel.
Al Mamun, who was in the same table group as Kandavel, focused his attention on improving the transit system which many have complained about over the past few years. With services being reduced in Scarborough, he believes that this should be a priority when it comes to a functioning city.
“We need to think about the reality of what we are actually facing,” said Al Mamun. “The service we are getting, we have questions about it.”
Rupasinghe, a resident of Cliffside, said one of his main goals was on reprioritizing Toronto Council’s objectives.
“The budget is where you determine your priorities. We’ve been making the wrong things a priority for far too long,” said Rupasinghe. “That’s happening in the next 90 days. One year from now I think there are very tangible actions the city can be taking to make sure that far fewer people are injured and killed in collisions here in Scarborough.”
Rupasinghe pointed out that almost half of pedestrian fatalities in the city happen east of Victoria Park Avenue. His immediate goals, if elected, revolve around reducing this trend.
“We are facing the consequences today of decisions that were made five or 10 years ago,” he said. “But I want to start turning things around.”
His opponents, however – the ones that were asked a similar question at least – revealed other goals which mainly had to do with housing.
David, for instance, said that his biggest accomplishment would be “putting people in houses”.
“If I could have, hopefully, zero people living on the street, I think that would be something I’d be proud of,” said David.
Another goal of his would be the abolishment of the police, an opinion which angered one very vocal resident who expressed extreme disappointment at David. However, in a composed manner, David reiterated his belief that the police as it is “has a role in society” which is “not the protection of people otherwise they would be protecting people on the street”.
“I will not support any budget for the police,” said David. “I will not give money to the people that attack workers and attack marginalized people. I’m just not going to do it.”
Roy’s main position through the evening was an emphasis on the urgency of tackling Toronto’s food insecurities and affordability crisis.
He reminded residents of the importance of their elected representative to “actually demonstrate” an ability to help the community – something he believes he has done based on the success of his Feed Scarborough initiative which is approaching its fourth year of operations, serving 7,500 people every week.
“We demand that we are in a community where everybody has a place to live and food to eat,” said Roy.
A Candidates Forum is set for the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 14, hosted by Scarborough ACORN. For more info, please see https://beachmetro.com/2023/11/14/scarborough-southwest-byelection-2023-candidates-forum-hosted-by-scarborough-acorn-set-for-evening-of-nov-14/
Candidates will participate in another forum on Thursday, Nov. 23, at the Oakridge Community Centre, 63 Pharmacy Ave., from 7 to 9 p.m. Residents are encouraged to contact email@example.com for more details on the event.
For more information on the Scarborough Southwest byelection, please go to https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/elections/2023-by-election-councillor-ward-20-scarborough-southwest/by-election-voters/by-election-myvote/
For a list of the candidates running in the Scarborough Southwest byelection, please see our earlier story at https://beachmetro.com/2023/10/16/total-of-23-candidates-registered-to-run-in-scarborough-southwest-councillor-byelection/
– 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.