By: Julia Chew
Part of an ongoing series profiling women in Toronto politics, community-building, activism, and other aspects of municipal or political life.
Ana Bailão is the City Councillor for Ward 18, Davenport- an area rich with cultural diversity. She currently serves as Toronto’s Housing Advocate, overseeing the city’s affordable housing strategy. We spoke to her to discuss political life, accessibility, and community engagement.
Q: How has political life shaped your advocacy work and activist roots?
A: My activist roots truly started when a city councillor asked me to do some grassroots work with him. I loved the impact that I was able to have through the office by increasing advocacy in the files that were important to me. I usually say that it was the early advocacy work that I was passionate about that still affects my political work and what sorts of files I work on.
Q: What kinds of early issues were you interested in?
A: I came to Canada at the age of 15. Being an immigrant myself, I am interested in any files that to do with settlement. This is why I do a lot of work on housing, job opportunities in terms of social procurement and making sure that there are good jobs in the city and there is access to these jobs. Economic opportunity is always around and it’s important to give the opportunity for people to succeed. I see government as having a huge role in looking out for the most vulnerable but we also should think about how we can create the conditions for people to succeed. Whether it is good housing or transit, it’s our job in the government to ensure that people have the foundation to succeed.
Q: How do you communicate and engage with the community?
A: There are many ways we can contribute to the community. Politics isn’t the only way to affect change but it is one of the ways to affect change. There are tons of people and organizations in the city that work to positively affect the community. In government, we work within direct impacts from council’s decisions. It’s challenging because there is a lot of responsibility, but it’s extremely rewarding to walk down a street and be able to point out a community centre that you’ve pushed for and see children being able to have a place to play.
I’m out in the community at least three times a week. We have town hall meetings, a local community office open three days a week, and I’m at the local office myself on Fridays to be open to anybody who would like to drop in. I use social media (Facebook, Twitter) and we distribute newsletters and e-newsletters. As we have a very large Portuguese community, every month after council, I talk about the most important items that were discussed and debated. In this way, I am not only informing my constituents but the whole Portuguese community. I’m consistently trying to engage and listen to feedback as well. This is an important part about being a community leader.
Q: What are your proudest accomplishments in office?
A: Locally, my proudest accomplishment was being able get a new library for the community. We have one of smallest libraries in the system (Dupont Library) and the new space will be approximately 10 times larger. I’m proud that we were also able to secure a new 7500 square feet community space and we are working on expanding the west Toronto rail path.
City-wide, I feel proud that when Rob Ford wanted to sell all the scattered homes in the Toronto Community Housing portfolio, I led the fight to stop it because I didn’t believe he had a plan. With 90 000 families on the waiting list, we could not start selling off stock without a solid plan. At the end of the day, we ended up selling a number of homes that were worth too much, and needed so many repairs that it didn’t make sense to repair it with the same amount of money that could be used to house two or three families. We wanted to ensure there was a thoughtful approach to the process and a focus on creating a true capital plan.
I also feel very proud of a new program recently launched with John Tory called Open Door Program where we are making land available for the construction of affordable housing. We’re partnering with the private and non-profit to create more affordable housing.
Finally, I’m proud to have led the twinning of cities with Toronto and Rio. We didn’t have any prior relationship with a Brazilian city. As one of the BRIC countries and a powerful economy, our national and provincial government were starting to have relationships with Brazil. Brazil is the sixth largest investor in Canada, and now our city also has a relationship with them.
Q: What are some of your goals right now?
A: I’m very passionate about housing and economic development. While building a strong workforce, I want to ensure that there is social procurement in the city at the same time. While spending billions of dollars on roads, why aren’t we creating more apprenticeships at the same times? I’m interested in making sure we have a good workforce strategy and a living wage through social procurement.
Q: How can we make city hall more accessible to constituents?
A: Initiatives such as open data can make constitutes feel like if they need to look into something, that option is available to them. Making sure that public meetings are held outside of city hall, think about issues outside of the bubble of City Hall, and making sure we are targeting other languages are all ways to make City Hall more accessible. There’s a strong multicultural media community we can engage with, and we need to utilize that and update citizens as to what’s happening in their city and how they can be engaged.
Q: From your point-of-view, how do we build a more equitable Toronto? What do the women of Toronto need?
A: We need to address a number of issues such as housing, childcare, and equity in the workforce. We need to continue the conversation about values in our society. Support also needs to be given by the government and the workforce to ensure we have a truly equitable city.
As we’re developing policy and legislation, we need to put on a gender lens. How do we make it more equitable for women, for people with disabilities?
Q: What are your political priorities during your time in office and when it comes time, how do you want to leave your legacy in municipal politics?
A: Locally, I want to leave the area as a space that people can live in while maintaining its rich diversity. How do we make sure we’re not pushing people out- that we still have the artists in our community, good services and affordability to live in the area? As the neighbourhood is slowly gentrified; community spaces, libraries, and daycare are important spaces to maintain and pay attention to. I’m going to be leaving an area that is very well-known when people come to visit Toronto, but I also want to ensure it’s a space that people can continue to live in.
As a city, I want to put a dent in the housing situation particularly with Toronto Community Housing. With 2.6 billion dollars of repairs, it’s very important to me that we are able to tackle this issue in a responsible way.
Beyond political office, I do see myself staying in politics. Even through non-profit work, these are issues I can see myself continually working within and these are files that will always have issues arising. There are city-building issues that will need to be continually addressed.