Porter: City council hopefuls are just what Toronto needs

March 16, 2010

Catherine Porter


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{{GA_Article.Images.Alttext$}}Candidate Cadigia Ali — fluent in four languages — wants to speak for the “voiceless” on city council.


Meeting with Cadigia Ali is like taking a long, cold drink of water in the dead of summer up in Rexdale, nothing but steaming concrete all around.

Same goes for Kristyn Wong-Tam and Karen Sun.

Three women, all running for council. They quench a parched brain: despite a brittle mayoral race, passion for the city spurts elsewhere.

They all reflect the city. They are women. They are visible majorities. (Or they will be by 2017, when white in Toronto becomes the minority.) They are exactly what the city needs.

“We talk a lot about diversity. We say diversity is our strength. We don’t lack talented people. A lot of talented, diverse, intellectual people made a choice to be Canadian,” says Ali, a Somali doctor trained in Italy who works as a medical adjudicator for the province. She speaks four languages. She wants to use all of them to speak for a part of the city she calls “voiceless.”

“That’s a point I’d like to make,” says Ali, 60. “Canada has all these things and we are not using them – languages, minds, talent …”

Agreed. So why does council still look like the 1950s – mostly white, middle-aged men?

These women don’t just look like the city. They have ideas.

Wong-Tam wants to open a women’s equality office at city hall to examine budgets with the guiding question: Is this a good deal for women and children?

Wong-Tam, who is running in Ward 27, came to Canada from Hong Kong at age 4. She moved out on her own at age 16 after coming out to her parents. She has a long record as a community activist in the Gay Village. She is a real estate broker, owns an art gallery on Richmond St. and helped launch the Church St. BIA. All this to say, she is super smart.

Some of her thoughts: The city’s planning codes should reflect families. New condominium buildings should include a minimum number of three-bedroom units. Downtown sidewalks should be widened to fit wheelchairs and strollers. The same goes for TTC entrances.

“We are systematically removing families from the downtown core,” she says. “Urban planning in Toronto is not family-friendly. It’s not woman-friendly.”

Karen Sun thinks the TTC family pass should include grandparents. I agree – the era of the nuclear family is dead.

She wants to build more spaces in her downtown neighbourhood, Ward 19, where people can mingle. Community cafes in winter, community gardens in summer …

“How do you build your city so people have places to sit down and meet each other?” asks Sun, the executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council’s Toronto chapter.

Sun is an environmentalist who rides her bike to work and spent two years planting trees in High Park, working for the city. She has a master’s degree in planning. She is direct and smart and engaged – what all councillors should be.

She gives one example of what happens when city council doesn’t reflect the city. Her office is across from Chinatown, a place often referred to as dirty and smelly. Previously, garbage cans were big and stuffed full with market remains: squid, durian rinds, coconut shells.

Then the city rolled out the new Viacom bins –with the three little holes for garbage. Those holes were too small for Chinatown garbage.

“Coconuts were rolling down the street. People were piling them up against garbage cans. It was just such a mess,” says Sun, 35.

So she put out a booklet about perpetuating stereotypes. It asked: “Can a garbage can be racist?” Within a couple of weeks, green bins arrived in Chinatown. Coconuts fit in them just fine.

“Things can be so obvious to you and your community, but if you don’t come from the community, you don’t see it,” she says.

“The question is who gets to sit at the table?”

3 thoughts on “Porter: City council hopefuls are just what Toronto needs

  1. MK

    Any candidate worthy of the public’s consideration should not be measured by their gender,sexual orientation,or race. Instead,let their deliverables speak loudly.For instance,was a mayoral,or councillor candidate successful in their previous role[s],or did they leave a wake of economic discontent as a legacy?I am hoping fellow voters this time ’round are willing to take a look at a candidate’s skills,and not buy into “big box” politics.

    1. votejohnrichardson Post author

      Thanks – I couldn’t agree with you more.

      Remember that political parties do not dominate the Toronto elections. Hence, you need look only at the individual candidate.


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