Female city councillors & candidates to explain #WhyWeRun for office

Women in Toronto Politics (@WiTOpoli) invites female leaders from across the city to join a Twitter chat about #WhyWeRun for municipal office and school boards. Join @WiTOpoli for this online conversation happening on Twitter at the hashtag #WhyWeRun on Wednesday, July 16th from 7 – 9pm.

This chat will feature women who currently hold municipal office in Toronto, as well as mayoral, city council and school board candidates in the upcoming 2014 race.

This spring, Equal Voice Canada launched their #RespectHer campaign to expose the everyday sexism experienced by female politicians across Canada. In light of these revelations, the #WhyWeRun chat will bring together local leaders to discuss what inspires their political engagement, the obstacles they’ve faced, the tools, resources and support they’ve drawn upon to overcome them, and how to make politics a more welcoming space for women.

Join @WiTOpoli on July 16th for the #WhyWeRun chat.

Ask Your Candidate: Environment

By: Heather Jackson

Toronto has many environmental concerns and issues, but the two that are top of mind heading into this municipal election are: 1) air quality, and 2) storm infrastructure.

AIR QUALITY

Way back in 1991, the City of Toronto established the Toronto Atmospheric Fund to focus on reducing local greenhouse gas and air pollution emissions. TAF currently operates as an arms-length agency at no cost to the City. It helps Toronto achieve the targets set in the Climate Change Action Plan that city council unanimously approved in 2007, and later The Power to Live Green, Toronto’s Sustainable Energy Strategy that was drafted in 2009.

As of 2013, Toronto surpassed its goal of reducing greenhouse gases to 6% below 1990 levels by reducing them to 15% below 1990 levels! Waste, electricity and natural gas emissions are all down (largely thanks to Toronto’s recycling and organic waste programs and Ontario’s closure of coal plants), but transportation emissions are up. Transportation now accounts for a whopping 36% of Toronto’s emissions! However, electricity and natural gas used to power and heat our buildings accounts for a combined 53% of Toronto’s emissions.

With these numbers in mind, here are some questions to ask your candidate:

1. Do you support investment in public transit and active transportation infrastructure (walking, cycling) as a way to get commuters out of cars whenever possible and lessen transportation emissions?

2. Do you support incentives to help homeowners and businesses retrofit their buildings to be more energy efficient?

3. Do you think the city should require better energy efficiency for new construction projects?

STORM INFRASTRUCTURE

After last summer’s floods, this winter’s ice storm, and the floods and tornados we’ve already experienced this spring in southern Ontario, citizens are concerned about Toronto’s ability to cope with severe weather.

-- Swire Licensed under: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

— Swire
Licensed under: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

In 2008, City Council unanimously endorsed a climate adaptation strategy, Ahead of the Stormthat outlines actions that will improve the City’s resilience to climate change and extreme weather events. Actions include increasing the size of storm sewers and culverts to handle more runoff, pruning trees to reduce damage to property and electrical lines during the storm, and installation of basement backflow preventers and window well guards to reduce flooding risk.

But is the plan being put into action quickly enough? Is Toronto ready for the storms? According to the this article in The Star the answer seems to be no. Franz Hartmann of the Toronto Environmental Alliance criticized the City for focusing on emergency response after storms instead of upgrading infrastructure before storms hit. And Toronto City Manager Joe Pennachetti agrees that extreme weather needs to be more of a priority at City Hall. As of this winter, it was ranked around number 10, but Pennachetti feels it should probably move up to number 3 after transit and social housing.

But, of course, there is a lack of money, as this article in the NOW points out. Part of the problem is that declining water use by both residents and industry has cut Toronto Water’s revenues by 10% in the last decade, leaving a $350 million shortfall in infrastructure upgrades.

So with that all in mind, here are questions to ask your candidate about Toronto’s storm preparedness:

1. Are you in favour of keeping annual water increases at 9%? Or do you think it should be lowered to 3%? If lowered, how do you propose the City pay for water infrastructure upgrades?

2. Do you think extreme weather needs to be more of a priority at City Hall? If so, how do you propose making that happen?

 

Ask Your Candidate: Toronto Police Service

Toronto Police | TAV59

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

By Lauren Atmore

With a city as dense and diverse as Toronto, it’s important that our police services are able to handle a wide range of community issues with tact and sensitivity while continuing to maintain order. While there is no doubt that our men and women in blue are a crucial force, several problems have arisen since the last election.

There is no better time to learn your candidates’ stance on these matters than now. With approximately 9,150 officers in the Toronto, York and Peel forces and a budget close to $1 billion dollars annually for Toronto’s agency alone, every candidate should have something to say about this municipal service.

1. Where does your candidate stand on the increased access to and use of tasers by Toronto police?

Toronto Police Service (TPS) Chief Bill Blair has openly supported the idea that more use of tasers amongst his force “has the potential to save lives.” Looking back on the death of Sammy Yatim, an 18-year-old killed in a struggle with Toronto Police in 2013, access to a taser could have made all the difference. The officer who shot and killed Yatim was a constable. At this rank, he wasn’t allowed to have and use a taser. Some argue, however, that an increase in de-escalation training would be sufficient to complement the existing force police offers currently have. “What we’re worried about is that tasers will be used when police wouldn’t have used guns in the first place,” explains Sakura Saunders of Disarm Toronto Police. “We’re not suggesting that all police don’t have arms, but that specially trained officers have guns that can be called in.”

2. Mental distress calls to emergency services are increasing. Does your candidate have a plan to handle the costs associated with these special demands while remaining sensitive to the range of needs of those with mental illness?

With over 20,000 calls coming in annually “directly related to mental health”, tactics must be put in place to ensure the safety of the public as well as the individual involved. Arrests under Provision 28, which allows TPS to apprehend an individual believed to be mentally ill, have increased 16 per cent from 2010 to 2012. A renewed effort has taken place to partner with national mental health groups to combat the increase in these confrontations, but are the right steps being taken? Does your candidate support a long-term plan for deep-rooted change?

3. What does your candidate think of measures like carding and strip searches? Are they an undue burden, evidence of systemic bias, or a helpful tool in cleaning up our streets?

With almost one third of all arrests leading to a strip search, there has been concern for several years that this tactic is overused. It has been suggested by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition that the Level 3 search rate should be closer to 5 per cent of all arrests, and that new technology such as scanners similar to those in airports can help fill in the gap. While those tools would certainly be less invasive, it could lead to more people being searched without grounds while bumping up general TPS budget costs.

Carding, the practise of police asking to see identification from just about anyone they choose to ask is a method designed to keep our communities safe. Whether this technique works in apprehending individuals carrying out crimes or in reminding people that at any moment they could be asked to identify themselves, there is no doubt that this request is not carried out equally among Toronto’s residents. For instance, though Black Canadians comprise about 8 percent of Toronto’s population, they represent 23 per cent of all random cardings – about three times that of white people. Though recent regulations have come into place regarding carding, including officers being required to let the targeted individual know their rights, it’s hard to know what measures are effective in preventing racial profiling. Does your candidate have any ideas to contribute to this debate?

4. Does your candidate have a stance on the TPS budget? Does their stance include specific areas to spend on and others to save on? 

In 2013, Toronto Police Services had a net budget of $927,740.50–almost one billion dollars–which also includes lifeguard and crossing guard programs across the city. To some, there is never enough funding available to those on our city’s front line. To others, TPS represents a force that obstructs individual liberties while adding little to community safety. Having to pay such high amounts adds insult to injury.

Whichever way you look at it, Toronto’s population is increasing year over year and as such, there are more people to keep an eye on and more situations to respond to. Could there be a better way to handle add-on costs, such as lifeguard and crossing guard services? Should wages be frozen to help cover growing costs of technology, or should the budget be expanded to cover the needs of both officers and citizens? When costs are spread out to the community as in the case of paid duty services, there appears to be a decrease in use when the costs go up. Is there any way this can be mitigated so events can properly supervised?

Finding a balance when it comes to community safety and those who enforce it can be difficult. It’s easy to say that you can’t put a price on health and safety but each year, requests are made to increase budgets, to increase benefits, to increase technologies designed to streamline procedures, and each year many of those requests are denied. The City doesn’t have infinite funds to cover all of the needs of this essential service. The candidates we elect, however, are the ones who decide what to spend on and where to save.

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?

 

Ask Your Candidate: Public Health

By: Lauryn Kronick

Access to physicians, community healthcare services and programs is essential for Torontonians to maintain a healthy body and mind and to be able to get the care they need. Women, especially those from low-income communities, expectant mothers, single parents, and senior citizens, often don’t have adequate access to the health services they need. Here are some questions you can ask your ward’s candidates about the city’s public health concerns.

  1.    What are ward candidates’ ideas for Toronto Public Health to increase and improve their services and programs for marginalized communities? Last year,Toronto Public Health identified that racialized community members were more likely to experience poorer health outcomes and ‘high priority’ areas show the signs of inequalities of health. This increases the risks of further health complications and disease especially with the common scenarios of over-crowded walk-in clinics that have long wait times. Proximity to transit which connects people to community health centres, accessible programs with flexible hours and more family physicians who have openings for new patients are all issues which continue to affect marginalized communities and should be a priority on ward candidates’ agendas.
  2.    Ask your candidate on how they plan on addressing public health access for street-involved folks and harm reduction services, which are constantly on the chopping block for cuts each year.  It’s no secret that shelters in Toronto are over-crowded, resources are stretched thin and there is a need for a shelter specifically for LGBTQ youth. The 2014 city budget drew concerns that shelter occupancy rates are still at 90%, and city council hasn’t followed through on the promise to bring this number down. For street-involved women and women who need access to harm reduction services, there is room for improvement in moving forward to ensuring that the city’s more vulnerable women in these situations are getting the services and care they need. Are candidates in favour of cutting harm reduction services that are offered through community health centres and AIDS Service Organizations? What are their views on extending resources for street-involved populations beyond the downtown core and addressing homelessness numbers in areas that may be overlooked?
  3. How do your candidates prioritize the health of children and youth? Are they in favour of continuing to support programs that focus on keeping kids active and healthy? Initiatives that focus on healthy and active living,specifically for children, are a great way of encouraging youth to take care of their health in the early stages of life. Student nutrition programs in schools have received sufficient funding over the past few years; does this remain a priority for the candidates in your ward? Youth mental health is one area that’s been largely talked about in the public sphere recently—does your candidate support programs and initiatives that provide support for children and youth experiencing mental health issues?

While Toronto Public Health and The City of Toronto do offer a wide range of services and programs, many of them specifically for women, public health is one of the areas that experiences budgets cuts each year. Each time a program gets its funding reduced, we may not know how much this actually harms the members of the community it affects. Talk to your ward candidate and see where their priorities lie on the public health spectrum and see if they truly have their community’s best interests covered.

 

Ask Your Candidate: City Programs and Grants

By: Lauren Simmons

The City of Toronto funds hundreds of programs for residents and distributes a number of grants to support organizations. Some of these programs are particularly important in making our city as livable as possible for women and other equity-seeking groups, and it’s important to know where the candidates in your ward stand.

1. What are your ward’s candidates’ positions on the City of Toronto Welcome Policy? This policy provides a subsidy to help low-income families access recreation programs like swimming lessons and day camps, and is crucial to increasing access to city programs for all Toronto’s residents. In the past, the Welcome Policy has come under fire at City Hall – as recently as January, when debating the 2014 budget, Mayor Ford floated the possibility of charging an application fee for families who use the Welcome Policy. Ask your potential city councillor where they stand on the Welcome Policy – will they defend it, and at what cost?

2. Where does your candidate want to see the City’s grant money go? The City of Toronto supports organizations that do social, economic and cultural work through various forms of community funding. It is helpful for voters to know which of these grants a candidate supports, and to what extent they want to allocate city funds to these interests. Find out what your candidate’s priorities are when it comes to allocating grants – do they support arts and cultural organizations? Services for newcomers? Community organizations? LGBTQ programs? Environmental groups? Assess your candidates’ grant funding priorities and see if they align with yours.

3. Does the city currently have the funds for the programs your candidate supports/proposes, and if not, where does he/she believe the should money come from? It’s easy for candidates to say that they want to see more money go to improving the tree canopy, or supporting libraries, or LGBTQ youth, but where would they take that money from? Seeing which programs your potential councillors de-prioritize can be just as telling as seeing what they put at the top of the heap, so take time to ask them where you think our money doesn’t need to go.

The various programs and grants covered by the City of Toronto budget are as complicated and faceted as the residents of the city itself, and no one candidate will be able to declare support for all of them equally. By taking time to assess which programs matter to you, to your communities, and to the equity-seeking groups you belong to and support, you can be better informed when discussing these programs with your potential representatives.

 

Ask Your Candidate: Transit

By Lauren Atmore

TTC Ettiquette // Photo: MEHRIN HOSSAINCourtesy of the Undergound.

Discussions on transit development and funding seem to have reached a fever pitch in Toronto over the last few years. It’s no wonder that many council or mayoral candidates establish a position on transit as the first or primary leg of their platform. Like many Torontonians, these candidates have had years to watch the sometimes heated debates cover many different areas on transit, though it hasn’t always been clear if their plans focus specifically on the needs of women and families.

When considering a candidate’s thoughts on transit solutions, we should think about the following:

  1. What do the candidates in your region think about time-based transfers? Since many women are charged with errand-running and making sure young children get to school, having to pay twice for one trip can weigh especially heavily on women. It’s important to remember that offering time-based transfers could mean a loss of a projected $20 million in annual revenue for the TTC. But who’s to say the TTC wouldn’t gain additional fares from people who would otherwise choose to run their errands using another mode of transportation?
  2. Have your ward’s candidates expressed any thoughts on getting additional transit funding from upper levels of government? Almost 60 per cent of transit riders are female, so when riders cover approximately 70% per cent of the TTC’s operating budget, women effectively pay disproportionately into TTC revenue streams. This is an increasing burden, considering how little funding the TTC gets from federal and provincial governments.
  3. LRT or subways? While our current council has all but sealed the deal on this debate, favouring subways over light rail transit (LRTs), seeing where your candidates stand on the issue could provide insight to their priorities. While subways can serve a higher volume of riders, it’s certainly the more expensive option. LRT is also the slower of the two and can sometimes impose restrictions on road traffic. LRT stops are typically much closer together than subway stops which makes it a more accessible option for those with disabilities, and a safer option as women won’t have to walk as far from their stops to their houses.
  4. Retrofitting for accessibility? With GO to be fully accessible by 2015 and the rest of Toronto Transit to be fully accessible by 2025, all of the Baby Boomers cohort will be over 65. What would you do to speed up retrofitting the system. (Thanks to @SharkDancing for the suggestion, via Twitter).

When it comes down to it, transit is just one element a voter should consider when evaluating a candidate, though we all have to take measure of our priorities. If your commute includes riding on the subway and the streetcar, for example, transit should rank high. Alternatively, those who aren’t well serviced by the TTC could also be interested in this issue – the squeaky wheel gets the oil, after all. Finally, transit decisions impact all road users, because more effective and accessible transit means less congestion for everyone.


 

Facts to consider:

  • Premier Kathleen Wynn has announced $29 billion in new funding “over the next decade to build transit and transportation infrastructure in Ontario.” While details will be released with the provincial budget later this spring, Wynne says that the additional funding will come from the existing gas tax, “a redirection of the HST charged on gas and diesel fuel, money from “provincial assets” and the Green Bonds program” – this is in addition to the lane tolls announced last year.
  • According to the Toronto Women’s City Alliance, 28% of women with paid employment primarily use public transportation for their commute, compared to 17% of men.
  • The TTC’s fleet is comprised of: about 700 subway cars; 247 streetcars, of which 52 are higher-capacity articulated streetcars; 1800 buses of varying ages and types; 135 fully-accessible buses; and contracted accessible and regular taxis.
  • 1.6 million passengers use the TTC on an average weekday, or about 460 million customers annually while “Wheel-Trans carries 1.5 million trips per year, or about 5000 trips on a typical weekday.”
  • In Canada, seniors whose main form of transportation is transit rather than car show decreased “participation in various social activities (family activities, physical activities with other people, community activities, volunteer work, etc.)”. Considering women are more likely not to have their license and to use public transportation instead, access is a critical issue.

We want to meet you at the WiTOpoli mixer series!

Siva Vijenthira & Susan Gapka at a WiTOpoli mixer in early 2013

Siva Vijenthira & Susan Gapka at a WiTOpoli mixer in early 2013

As we approach an election year, Women in Toronto Politics is beginning to formulate plans for community outreach and resident engagement. It’s the perfect time for women invested in the city and its communities to connect with one another and dream up ways to ensure women’s voices are heard on the campaign trail.

In that spirit, WiTOpoli is hosting a series of mixers in Toronto (Scarborough, downtown, Etobicoke and North York) as well as one mixer via Google hangout. All events will be held in bars or restaurants and children are welcome.

Check out our events page for more info on times and places. You can sign up for our mailing list to be notified of the dates, times and locations of future events.

We look forward to meeting you!