A Political Perspective with Councillor Ana Bailão

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.

#TOBudget2016: Make Emergency Shelter Funding a Priority

By: Lauren Atmore

With the city’s 2016 budget deadline looming, the familiar fear of which services are going to be cut is creeping in. One area that is chronically underfunded are Toronto’s emergency shelters and drop-in centres, and unfortunately 2016 doesn’t look any more promising.

Although the City of Toronto website tells us there are 47 emergency shelters and hostels for our city’s most vulnerable, they are frequently over-populated and often have trouble meeting demand, especially in the winter and in poor weather conditions. When it comes to low-barrier options, there are even fewer options.

Many emergency shelters do not provide to low-barrier access for those who need them. With low-barrier access services, “the aim is to have as few barriers as possible to allow more people access to services. In housing this often means that tenants are not expected to abstain from using alcohol or other drugs, or from carrying on with street activities while living on-site, so long as they do not engage in these activities in common areas of the house and are respectful of other tenants and staff.” Essentially, these types of drop-in centres allow people to access services quicker, with fewer stipulations in place.

According to the Wellesley Institute, low-barrier access is important because “people should be able to get the help they need with low psychological barriers and procedural hurdles.”

Sistering is one of Toronto’s only low-barrier 24/7 drop-in centres. Executive Director Pat O’Connell says the lack of municipal funding for these services is at a crisis level. As she outlined at WiTOpoli’s 2016 Budget Explainer, the city and other channels of funding are only able to go so far, offering just band-aid solutions to a systemic issue. While healthcare is funded in part by the federal government and managed by the province, Pat explains how emergency facilities like Sistering are expected to pick up the slack. She often sees women dropped off at the centre by hospital or police services, only to have Sistering not have the necessary resources to handle someone in such dire need, and the clients being turned back to the very same services that brought them.

The silver lining is that organizations like Sistering focus on harm reduction which is an effective strategy in helping women avoid emergency services like hospitals, and saves nearly $1000 from our healthcare system with each trip avoided. They give women access to basic necessities like regular meals, hot showers and safe places to sleep which are the building blocks for women to get back on their feet.

But with the threat of reduced funding year over year, those working closest with the people who use shelter and drop-in services worry about making ends meet – or worse, having to turn people away. Advocates like Pat urge Torontonians to use their voices and harness political to make change. Many of the people in the emergency shelter system aren’t able to campaign for their needs as they struggle to make sure their basic needs are covered. While the goal is to ultimately build up our support systems to help people avoid poverty and the need to use emergency services, what Pat says we need right now is more places for women to go.

By writing, calling, tweeting and contacting our councillors and representatives at higher levels of government, we can let them know that the safety of those in need is a paramount concern that requires action now. Here’s a draft letter you can use when writing or e-mailing your councillor on this issue. Be sure to contact them ASAP – the budget will be presented in council this week on February 17th and 18th.

WiTOpoli Weekly: February 20, 2015

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

Ask Your Candidate: LGBTQ Community

By: Lauryn Kronick

It’s hard to miss the rainbows that have recently taken over many parts of Toronto. With World Pride coming to Toronto at the end of June, this is a good time to engage your candidates in conversation about what they think the issues facing the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, transgender and queer) communities are and how they can keep supporting them once Pride is over. Pride is a time of year when more attention is paid to human rights issues that affect the queer and trans communities, often at a national and global level. But these diverse communities face ongoing pressing issues that demand more support from city councillors who can be the ones to help drive change.

Jarek Piórkowski, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

How does your ward candidate support and participate in Pride?

Over the past few years, Pride Toronto has made headlines on a number of occasions: when Rob Ford ditched the festivities and headed to his cottage, when the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was up for debate and when TDSB Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos announced that he wanted nude people at Pride arrested. But, for an incumbent city councillor or a municipal candidate, Pride is an important time to get out and meet members of the city’s diverse LGBTQ community and show their support in many ways, one of them by participating in the Trans* March, the Dyke March and/or the Pride Parade. Support from the City is essential for Pride Toronto to offer its full ranges of programmes. (Pride Toronto currently receives city funding as a Major Cultural Organization). Ask your ward candidate if they have ever marched in one of the Pride marches or in the Pride Parade. If not, would they consider doing so? You can gauge support by suggesting your ward candidate hold a Pride celebration in their ward and seeing if this is something of interest to them.

LGBTQ homeless youth and seniors are two communities who remain under-serviced in the city. What are your plans to further advance work being done with these communities?

When LGBTQ youth who access shelters in Toronto continue to experience discrimination because of their sexual and/or gender expression, identity and orientation, it is evident that there is need for a safe(r) space. Last December, Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam brought forward a motion to develop a working group to discuss the opportunity for a queer and trans youth shelter, which was adopted by City Council’s Community Development and Recreation Committee. The goal for this shelter is to be created and operating within a 12-month time period. When this working group moves forward with its plans and recommendations, the more support from City Council, the better chance this shelter has in its development.

Toronto’s aging LGBTQ population does have care and housing resources available to them, but there have been reports of trans* seniors experiencing abuse in their residences. This absolutely needs to be addressed; if queer and trans seniors are facing abusive situations in their homes, ask your ward candidate how they plan on addressing this and if they would allocate resources to train senior centre workers on how to better educate their residents on building a more inclusive environment.

Toronto is a self-declared “sanctuary city” for undocumented migrants, whose numbers include LGBTQ members who have arrived in Canada to seek asylum or fled dangerous situations in their home countries. How will your ward candidate ensure that LGBTQ newcomers are included in the process of gaining access to city resources and obtaining documentation?

The city has recently made headway in moving forward with its “sanctuary city” status, which gives basic rights to people without full immigration status. Toronto is a major hub for new immigrants with approximately 78,000 settling in the GTA each year, many of whom identify as queer and trans individuals. These individuals may have left their homes because of homophobic and transphobic laws that endanger their lives. While there are programs for LGBTQ newcomers offered through the city, dealing with the trauma of having left everything behind due to discrimination based on one’s gender and sexuality, coupled with the newness of a city, makes a challenge all the more overwhelming. There may be fear of continued discrimination within a new community and unfamiliarity to access resources and programs on top of the other challenges and struggles that new immigrants face, especially those without documents and status. With the sanctuary city motion moving forward, it’s important to remember that LGBTQ newcomers are a vulnerable population within an already vulnerable community.

Ask Your Candidate: Housing

By: Cherise Seucharan

With a lack of affordable housing vacancies, rent prices on the rise, and social housing steadily deteriorating, housing is an urgent city issue that has not yet been addressed in this municipal race. It is all the more critical due to Ontario’s funding structure- unlike other provinces, social housing is municipally, not provincially funded, which puts pressure on the city to meet a variety of housing needs. Women, in particular, are uniquely affected by the lack of affordable housing in Toronto, as they are often the prime or single caregivers in a household, and face lower income prospects than men. Additionally, more affordable housing, particularly for mothers and newcomers, means children are less likely to be raised in poverty, which increases the overall prosperity and well-being of our city.

What is your strategy to provide more affordable housing?

The growth of condominium developments is a contentious issue for many Torontonians, representing the prioritization of higher-priced “lifestyle” housing. Meanwhile, the availability of affordable housing in the city is declining. Affordable housing is generally defined as housing that costs about “30 percent of a household’s before-tax income”, and government policies are designed to take this measure into account when planning housing developments. However, as the number of condos being built exceeds the number of affordable units, demand has increased for the affordable places, driving up overall rent prices. Ask your candidate if they are willing to work with higher levels of government, as well as public and private housing bodies, to ensure there is more affordable housing.

Would you vote in favour of requesting more funding from the federal and provincial government for housing projects?

Earlier this year city council voted almost unanimously to request funding from higher levels of government, in order to support an estimated $2.6 billion in much-needed repairs for Toronto Community Housing residences. Mayor Ford then travelled to Ottawa to make the request known, but was met with an unfavourable response from the federal government. The TCHC has a long backlog of repairs needed for their deteriorating properties, and the city currently cannot afford these repairs without extra funds. Ask if your candidate would support a push for the extra funding needed.

How would you shorten the social housing waitlist?

Despite the previously mentioned attempts at procuring funds, there are still over 165,000 people on the waitlist for social housing in Toronto. Social housing is defined as “housing that is owned and operated by government or non-profit organizations where a portion or full amounts of the rents are subsidized,” and can exist in the form of housing co-ops, and private and public non-profit residences. Province-wide, the “affordability gap” is widening, with more families having to pay a larger portion of their income on housing, indicating a likely increase in the amount of social housing needed. How do the candidates in your ward plan on addressing the ever-lengthening wait list for affordable housing in Toronto?

How would you restore credibility to the TCHC?

Described as the “largest landlord in the country”, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation manages all of the public non-profit housing in the city, with a total of 164,000 residents. The TCHC has come under fire in recent years for numerous human rights violations, including allegations of abusive treatment of seniors, detailed in a report from the Ombudsman. The controversy prompted a restructuring of TCHC staff, but this past April, Gene Jones, the newly chosen CEO, was ousted amidst another scandal. With a recent history marked by scandal, the city should focus on strategies to restore credibility and higher standards to the organization.

How would you help to meet the varied needs of Toronto’s homeless population?

There is high stress placed on Toronto’s shelters to provide for the needs of the homeless in ways for which they were not originally equipped. While occupancy for beds at shelters is consistently high, shelters are also adapting to provide longer-term and assisted-needs housing, and to address the specific needs of women and the increasing number of homeless youth.  Additionally, the high number of people on the social housing wait-list is an indicator of those who are at risk for homelessness. What plans does your candidate have for alleviating this stress on Toronto’s shelters?