By: Lauren Simmons, with files from Ali Chatur
Electoral candidates often talk about making Toronto better for the “citizens of tomorrow”, but concrete action from City Council on issues that impact youth in Toronto can be hard to come by. While youth under 18 aren’t able to vote, those who we elect on their behalf will make many decisions that affect them. Here are few ways you can glean just how supportive of youth your potential City Councillors are. 1. What do your candidates plan to do about youth homelessness? Recent evidence suggests that more and more young people in Toronto are using the city’s homeless shelters. This trend, coupled with the increase in need for youth-oriented mental health services and more support for LGBTQ youth in shelters in Toronto, presents a problem on which City Council can no longer remain inactive. Ask your candidates what they plan to do increase affordable housing and transition support for youth in Toronto, especially those with mental health concerns and those who are members of the LGBTQ community.
2. What are your candidates’ strategies for supporting youth who are immigrants or who belong to racialized groups? Data from the Ontario Trillium Foundation suggests that more than one-third of youth in Toronto are immigrants and more than half of youth are members of a racialized group. These young people are often underserved by the current settlement supports for newcomers, which are themselves underfunded and difficult to navigate. While we regularly see media coverage about youth violence (sometimes with racist undertones), we hear less about the degree of support City Council offers for youth activities and programs in racialized communities. Do your candidates have any specific ideas for supporting newcomer and/or racialized youth in your Ward? If so, how do they plan to fund and implement them?
3. What are your candidates’ views of lowering transit fares? Many young people travel on public transit to school and work. The young people we spoke to clearly emphasized the need for Council to work to keep fares low so that youth, many of whom are only able to find precarious or part-time employment, can afford to travel in Toronto. What do you the potential candidates in your ward think about the idea of low transit fares? Are they interested in lowering fares, keeping the status quo, or raising them to pay for improvements? If they propose to keep fares as they are or lower them, how do they intend to pay for services in the future?
4. What are your candidates’ views on the Youth Equity Strategy? Earlier this year, as a result of a motion from Councillor Josh Matlow, Council received the Youth Equity Strategy, which included 28 concrete suggestions to improve life for youth and to reduce violence amongst young people in Toronto. Among the suggestions are the creation of a “youth equity champion” position, to be appointed from within Council, and the creation of a city-wide committee to combat the problem, which would include members from all the other committees of council. The initiatives proposed by the Youth Equity Strategy do amount to additional budget expenditures, but they’re ones that youth in Toronto are clamouring for. Do your council candidates support the Youth Equity Strategy? Are the dedicated to working at Council to advocate on behalf of youth to see it through?
Council candidates should be voices for all Toronto’s marginalized citizens, but arguably no one needs to have Council on their side more than our youth. Ask the right questions to find out if your prospective Councillors are indeed onside.