Matthew Cole isn’t old enough to vote, but he said he still wanted to be at Monday evening’s Toronto mayoral debate hosted by Operation Black Vote.
“I want to know what’s going on in my community and how this might affect me in the future and my family,” the 16-year-old told Global News.
The event was sold out as people packed in to hear from four candidates hoping to lead the city. One of the issues business leaders said they see the need for change is youth employment.
Nadine Spencer is with the Black Business and Professional Association and said she hears about these struggles all the time.
“The youth that comes to the BBPA or even to my office, they miss the training and the experience,” Spencer said.
“That’s a huge gap, so how do they get into mainstream?”
Others suggested investing more in employment will also help solve other problems.
“The more opportunities that Black youth have for jobs, to access high paying jobs, gainful employment, the less likely they are to engage in other activities that are going to put them in harm’s way,” community advocate Roderick Brereton said.
That sentiment was echoed by several candidates.
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“If they don’t have employment then they are going to look for other ways of getting income,” Knia Singh said.
“So our city has to understand it’s not gangs and guns that’s the problem, it’s lack of opportunity and unfortunately too much discrimination in the city.”
Jennifer Keesmaat said a proactive plan that focuses on neighbourhood safety is needed.
“Safety is too important to be kind of waffling and going back and forth and being reactionary,” she said.
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However, when it came to policing, Saron Gebresellassi called for a hiring freeze for Toronto police officers.
“The people tonight were very clear. This room had no appetite for hiring 200 more police officers,” Gebresellassi said.
It was a position John Tory was quick refute.
“It cannot be an either or choice. We need to make sure that the ranks of the police service are sufficient to keep the city safe, and more importantly to allow us to move forward with programs like neighbourhood policing,” he said.
But for people like Matthew Cole, that wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
“I don’t want police officers in my neighbourhood… I think that’s just wrong,” he said.