Black History Month: Representation on Toronto city council growing

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Growing Black representation on Toronto City Council
WATHC ABOVE: As Black History Month draws to a close, three of Toronto’s newest councillors reflect on their breakthrough in growing Black representation on Toronto City Council and the challenges ahead. Matthew Bingley reports – Feb 28, 2023

Toronto’s political stage hasn’t kept pace with the diverse population the city regularly promotes, with the majority of the city’s council members being white.

But last fall’s municipal election brought about the induction of three new Black councillors, renewing hopes the city’s governance will be more reflective of those who live here.

For the tail end of Black History Month, more than four months after Toronto’s fall election, Global News asked councillors Amber Morley, Chris Moise, and Jamaal Myers to reflect on their paths to victory, the progress made increasing representation in municipal politics, and the challenges they’ve identified to push the needle forward for future generations.

“For so long, we have not been adequately represented at city hall,” said Myers, “I was so proud to be part of this wave.”

Moise added that it was about time Toronto’s leadership reflected those who call the city home.

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Though the three new councillors joined council ranks as a result of the same election, each found a unique path to city hall.

Moise, a former school trustee, was championed as the heir apparent to his downtown ward’s long-time councillor after they moved on to provincial politics.

Morley successfully defeated a powerful incumbent after narrowly missing out on the opportunity four years prior. And Myers saw victory in the tail-end of the campaign following the death of a popular incumbent mere days before election day.

All of them have quickly made names for themselves as thoughtful and effective councillors, in a session already thrown into chaos by the surprise resignation of former Toronto mayor John Tory.

When he was a kid, Coun. Jamaal Myers said he found great excitement reading about Black politicians in history class. He’s hoping young Torontonians will find inspiration from his council win. Matthew Bingley/Global News

Myers said when he was a kid taking Canadian history in school, he would find inspiration every time he saw a Black person in a textbook, “just being so excited to read up about them, learning about them, learning about our history, and the contributions Black Canadians have made to our country.”

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He said if he were a teenager today, seeing the growing Black representation on council would have excited him.

A former staffer at Toronto city hall, Coun. Amber Morley fought two hard election battles before defeating the long-time incumbent and now is a member of the city’s Executive Committee. Matthew Bingley/Global News

Seeing yourself in those leading you is a thread Morley said she, too, had experienced. “(It) was something that just gave me the beginning of an idea that this could be future for me as well, that this could be a path that I could follow,” she said.

A long-time school trustee, Coun. Chris Moise had to pause his quest for City Council after the province cut the number of seats in 2018. He now chairs the Board of Health. Matthew Bingley/Global News

The concept of growing engagement through municipal politics through Black representation isn’t lost on any of them.

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Moise said since winning the election, he continues to get calls and emails from Black Torontonians. “‘Thank you for being there, thank you for allowing me to have a voice at city hall,” he said, “because they felt they were not seen or heard before.”

While progress is incremental, all three have a goal of ensuring their time at city hall continues to push progress forward.

“I want to do better for the next generations, I want young women who look like me, have similar experiences, not have to be hyper-independent,” said Morley.

“To have a space in society where they can find their way, be seen, heard and respected,” she said, “and to contribute.”

For Myers, success means overcoming the challenges that come with the job. “That our voices, our lived experiences, are actually reflected in the policies that get adopted at council,” he said.

“Hopefully (for) those who come after me, the road won’t be as hard, because it was hard,” said Moise. “But being here is not easy either, so now I have to work even harder to represent my community and to show that I got here on my own merit and that my voice matters and my community matters.”

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