After more than a decade with the same municipal representation, change is guaranteed in Toronto’s ward 20, but breaking through in Scarborough Southwest will be no easy feat for any of the 23 candidates attempting to contend not only with each other, but voter fatigue.
Thursday’s byelection largely marks the end of a tumultuous year in Toronto politics, kicked off by the sudden resignation of former mayor John Tory. The ensuing byelection for the mayor’s office, saw a seat open up on the provincial level in Scarborough-Guildwood, when its longtime MPP Mitzie Hunter resigned for an unsuccessful bid for Toronto’s top job.
After 13 years representing Scarborough on municipal level, Scarborough Southwest’s councillor Gary Crawford resigned the seat he won at council a year prior for a kick at the provincial can. Crawford’s run as a PC candidate also fell short, yielding another opportunity for new blood on city council.
Nearly two dozen candidates registered, and pollster Darrell Bricker with Ipsos Public Affairs said they’ll have their work cut out for them. The single biggest barrier municipal candidates have to achieve, he said, is name recognition.
“Even beyond what they stand for, just people knowing what their name is and being familiar with their name, is the first thing any candidate has to get through,” he said.
Two candidates in the race have a leg-up in that department after running in last fall’s municipal election. Parthi Kandavel, a former school trustee, as well as community activist Kevin Rupasinghe, came in second and third behind Crawford.
While many of the candidates share like-minded concern about transit access in the wake of the Scarborough RT’s demise and the high cost of living, Kandavel is attempting to set himself apart by promising to hold city officials to account after years of neglect.
“In 25 years since amalgamation, many who grew up or lived in Scarborough from that time, feel that neglect and are asking that question, ‘Are we better off 25 years later?'” he said. Kandavel said the city needs to ensure that city services are keeping up with the pace of growth in the ward. “That disparity in public services and the allocation of resources is very stark in that sense that frustration is felt across Scarborough,” he said.
Rupasinghe said in the year since the last municipal election, things have gotten worse for Ward 20’s residents. Transit is letting them down and he added the cost of living doesn’t care whether you rent or own. “Things have gotten really quite dire. It’s a great city, I love it here, this is the place I want to raise my family. But we need some new political leadership to help us move forward,” he said.
A fresh perspective including his advocacy at City Hall, is what he said voters are responding to at the door. “The same thinking that got us into this mess, isn’t going to be what gets us out of it,” said Rupasinghe.
But candidate Suman Roy said he thinks what voters are really looking for is someone who takes the ward’s issues into account before making any decisions. He founded the Feed Scarborough Food Security Initiative, which began with food hampers and now serves around 7,000 clients. Like the demand for food security, he said the desire to be listened to is also growing among residents.
“For years and years living in this riding, in this ward, I never felt meaningfully consulted,” said Roy. Being sent to the centre of Toronto’s decision making, he said would come with a guarantee he will be voting in the ward’s interests, not his own political aspirations.
“I will focus my energy in meaningfully consulting and actually voting on council based on what my community wants, rather than what just I want,” Roy said.
Cutting through the usual noise and contending with voter fatigue, Bricker said will ultimately depend on the ability of candidates to tap into the unique circumstances of the ward. He described Scarborough Southwest a “transitional ward” in that its geography shares both downtown and suburban issues.
“There is an agenda there for somebody to seize upon,” Bricker said, “the question is whether they can raise it to a level where people say ‘hey, this is a person of consequence, I think they’ll get something done at city hall, we really need to vote for them.'”
Eligible voters will be able to cast a ballot between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 30.
Also running are:
MD Abdullah Al Mamun