For mayoral candidate D!ONNE Renée, Toronto has yet to become a world-class city, a place where people thrive. Despite being one of the wealthiest cities in North America, Toronto still presents many barriers to people's livelihoods. Renée recounts her many friends who have visited the city from other places in the world and asked, "how do people rely on a transit system that is unreliable? There's a bus pole with a sign and a schedule but the bus doesn't come." She adds, "people come from other countries and they tell me this because their expectation of Toronto is the expectation that I have too: that transit should be coming in and meeting on time. It works in their country, why not here?"
While reliable transit is not the only hallmark of a healthy city, Renée contends that Toronto's ailing transit system is indicative of the city's mismanagement of funds and its resultant failure to ensure community wellness.
Using Toronto's controversial PRESTO fare gates as an example, Renée notes that the city is not using its economic resources properly:
"We have paid over $288 million just to install PRESTO gates alone and that's just for the gates we have right now. They're not even completely installed and those gates, as you're aware, have not been working. Add to that the cost of repair and inefficiencies, etcetera, etcetera, and the cost is even more than the $288 million [paid to this point]."
Rather than investing in better technologies for tracking fares, Renée is calling for the removal of fare gates -- which she argues disrupt the flow of traffic -- and, instead, a move toward fare-free transit. She also advocates for an increase in the number of public bathrooms and rest spaces in the transit system which, in conjunction with a fare-free system, would go a long way in making transit more accessible.
Further, Renée contends that fare-free transit could facilitate the removal of fare booths and gates, and all other monitoring equipment that requires maintenance. Instead, she proposes, "we hire locally and hire in a way that we can hire seniors, people with disabilities, to be ambassadors in the TTC for the [barriers] we actually remove." In addition to the ways that fare-free transit would bolster community health, Renée suggests that it would also serve as a boon to the economy as it would be "one less thing for Torontonians to worry about or calculate in their daily lives."
An inclusive vision for the city's future
Renée has campaigned on ideas such as implementing Dutch junction design for improved commuter safety, reduced road speeds, vertical gardens and organic farms in the city, and a joint property ownership plan. These are just a few ideas that span a wide-ranging platform that revolves around community wellness, housing and infrastructure, and services, and seeks to close the gap between the services taxpayers pay for and the services they receive. In zeroing in on taxpayers, Renée is careful to return to her campaign mantra, "together we succeed," noting that her vision for the city's future is an inclusive one:
"I think sometimes that people are dismissive of people who are homeless or people who they consider to be poor as not being people who pay taxes. Everyone pays taxes. Whether it be on your income tax statement or when you go to the store to shop, everybody pays taxes. So because of those taxes, we should be able to benefit from services that we are paying for."
From Renée's perspective, removing socioeconomic, institutional, and physical barriers is crucial to transforming Toronto into a world-class city and making it accessible to all residents. These kinds of changes, she argues, are not possible with status quo candidates, who are not grounded in community.
"I'm constantly looking for ways to ensure that we all have the ability to live and thrive and that means constantly engaging with the public, constantly taking the public's perspective and amplifying the public's voice."
Regarding housing, Renée is calling for a focus on accessible rather than affordable housing bylaws mandating accessible housing and child care in all condominium developments. She also believes that the city must take charge of homeownership and co-ownership to ensure that housing is a right. This means entering into a joint property ownership plan (referenced in her campaign as #jpopToronto) with new homeowners as well as establishing a permanent budget devoted to the maintenance and repair of all units owned by the City.
With respect to city employees and municipal services, Renée is advocating for improved accountability measures for city employees and improved training to ensure that all public servants, including first responders, can create and exist in safe and harassment-free spaces. She has reiterated the importance of removing all barriers to accessing municipal services in accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Ontario Human Rights Code. When asked about policing, a divisive issue in the City that cuts largely along lines of race and class, Renée notes that there are certain competencies lacking in all areas of public service, not just policing:
"The way in which the city has been planned, the way in which it has been designed, the way in which our city has been exclusive, all starts with the foundation of white supremacy."
"When you look at what white supremacy has done and what colonization has done for centuries in Canada against the very people who own this land -- what more will [white supremacy and colonization] do to the people who are paying taxes in the city but to maintain those structures, to maintain the status quo […] in order to protect the interests of those it wants to protect?"
As the election nears, Renée is encouraging Torontonians to carefully examine her platform and engage with her ideas. She believes that if residents take seriously the matter of community wellness, there will not only be one clear choice for mayor but that Toronto will be well on its way to becoming a world-class city where people live and thrive.
Editor's note: The cost of installing PRESTO fare gates has been changed from $244 to $288 million in this story, to reflect the most recent figures.
Phillip Dwight Morgan was the recipient of the first Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellowship, supported by rabble.ca and the Institute for Change Leaders. He is a Toronto-based journalist, poet, and researcher.
This is article is part of rabble's series on the 2018 Toronto election. Follow the series here.
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