Editor’s Note: August 29, The Black Canadian Awards and Diversity Advancement Network are hosting the Black Canadian Mayoral Debate in Toronto. The debate will bring together Olivia Chow, John Tory, David Solnacki, Dewit Lee and Rob Ford.
A recent spat between two mayoral campaigns in the upcoming Toronto municipal election calls for analysis. A high-ranking member of Olivia Chow’s campaign accused her opponent John Tory of “segregation” for his transit plan proposal. Tory’s transit plan would link the bedroom communities north of the city, and properly outside of the city limits, to the city core. His plan to increase intra-city and suburban train travel however conveniently bypasses Jane and Finch, one of the city’s blackest and poorest neighborhoods, in the northern end of the city. It is a curious plan for sure.
A ghostly black specter haunts this Toronto municipal election. The squabble between the Chow campaign and the Tory Campaign signals something glaringly clear about the use and abuse of Black bodies in this contest. Anyone who cares to know, knows that invoking the word segregation is a reference to the horrible conditions that Black North Americans have previously endured, especially African Americans. The Chow and Tory campaigns squabble over the word has made evident that neither campaign cares much for Black residents of this city.
In their fight, the issues that concern Black people — like accessible and affordable transit and housing — have gone missing as they each of them brandish their “anti-racist” credentials. But let me pose a question: Why should Black people vote for any of the leading candidates in this mayoral election, not to mention those not leading as well?
On voting day October 27, 2014 in Toronto, Black people have only one option. It is to reject all the candidates running for mayor. Why? Not one candidate in this election thus far has found it necessary to address Black people specifically.
And, why should they address Black people specifically, you might ask? Well as one of the largest ethnic groups in the city and as a group responsible for bringing a large monetary gift to the city each August, called Caribana, the address is necessary. It is a gift that they have received nothing back from for 47 years. It is necessary because the rates of poverty, school push-outs, unnecessary criminalization, health issues (yes health), housing and transit that plague Black life in this city has not been addressed by any of the candidates in any substantive way as yet and it seems clear those issues will not be addressed by them.
Yes, I know that the mayoral candidates when confronted with these questions and concerns will say that their policies will benefit everyone including Black people. However, I beg to differ.
The 1990s was Toronto’s heyday for racial and cultural diversity. It is when the city coined the phrase ‘Diversity our Strength’. It was also when the downtown core was truly diverse and amazing. It was a fleeting moment when after the police shootings of the 1980s and early 1990s it seems as though Black people could belong here too.
As an observer of the cultural scene, Toronto was the centre of Black Canadian cultural production then. But most importantly, we lived, worked and played downtown. We were downtown. It was time before big developers, the City Council, Ontario Municipal Board, along with a host of others big and small, acted to remake the city core as a white enclave. The “re-making” of Regent Park is a case in point. Significant municipal lands turned over to developer. I have yet to hear one candidate speak honestly of what this refinancialization of the downtown core means for Black people.
Black people have been push to the margins between the burbs and the core — an increasingly crowded area with less than adequate transit. Even Black barbers downtown are now under threat, their shops left in disrepair for years, only to be now told by landlords that imminent renovations mean they must move on. Will the few Black men living downtown now have to trek to Scarborough for a shave and haircut?
Indeed efforts to place a few units of affordable housing in new glass tower condos are not substantive and significant policy directions. Such suggestions are piecemeal and dependent on individual Councilors and the Mayor’s relations with developers. We should be clear about that. At the same time for the many Black people living on the margins of or beyond the downtown core who, because of poverty and minimum wage service work, have less access to transit (why some of them love Mayor Ford’s rhetoric), less income for cars and much less to spend on museums, art galleries, movies, dinning out and so on. And on top of all that they and their children, are greeted as suspect, continually by police and private security in the city core.
So this brings me to the question of crime. None of the candidates have addressed the legacy of former Mayor David Miller and Chief William Blair: Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS). TAVIS is especially operative in the spring and summer raiding homes and patrolling neighborhoods marked as “street gang” territories. It is my contention that TAVIS is specifically anti-black and poor. When the two conjoin Black and poor it is lethal. Indeed, any candidate calling themselves progressive, claiming to be interested in the lives of the poor in this city, would have to know that TAVIS is a summertime occupying army for Black and poor people.
More specifically, Chow’s photo op with a small group of young Black women while announcing her Crime and Guns policy was a shameful and disgusting piece of dog-whistle racial politics. Similarly, Tory’s attendance at the second anniversary of the Danzig shooting came from the same playbook. Mayor Ford calls us niggers and fucking minorities, others do it with a wink and a nudge. Any candidate that believes TAVIS is a necessary investment in policing is an anti-black and anti-poor people candidate. Thus far not one candidate has offered a progressive policy statement on policing.
Black youth and jobs have not crossed one of these candidates’ mouths as yet. Chow on CP24 told Stephen LeDrew that she spoke to mothers who told her that they kids have degrees and can’t find work. But what about the Black kids pushed out of schools before earning a diploma or the Black kids with with unfair criminal records due to racist policing, do they not deserve jobs too?
On the question of school reform… nada. (Yes, I know school reform is not central to City Council given our wonky municipal laws the School Boards are their own entity. Those same laws make no provision to impeach a mayor as well.) But any candidate that cared about Black people would care about our youth’s education and at least speak to it or mention it. Their education is central to the future of this city.
All of the candidates surely have something to say about crime. Their remarks boil down to letting those of us living in our high rise gated communities, otherwise known as condos and our tree-lined, renovated, open concept kitchen houses know that we will be safe. The message is always sent with young Black people in the picture reassuring white Torontonians with a wink and a nudge that they will protect good white folks from bad Black ones.
As for Mayor Ford, the incumbent, he has consistently voted against the expenditure of any public funds of any kind and for any initiative that might help Black people in this city. His cynical manipulation of poor Black people in particular sends a message that reeks of client politics of the sort that the western world likes to claim never happen here. Ford, like the other two contenders, uses and abuses Black bodies for political gain. These political visions do not intend to find a place where Black people can contribute in meaningful ways to a better future for this city and country. They only seek to take from Black people what will secure their own futures, giving nothing but a burger back, if as much.
So while the evidence piles up, I ask again, why should Black people vote for any of these candidates? None of them have Black peoples’ interest at heart. At least I can find no such evidence. None of them seem to notice that Black people are missing from every significant institution in this city and across this country. None of them care about the future of our youth (never mind Ford and football). None of them have the integrity nor the vision to offer the city a plan or set of policies that would ameliorate the suffering that Black people in too large numbers are living with daily.
What will change for Black people after October 27, 2014 and this municipal election? Nothing will have to suffice for now, because it is quite likely to get worst.
So on Election Day, spoil the ballot for mayor if you are Black. It is the only mass collective action that will make those in authority take Black people seriously. We have acted collectively in the past and achieved successes. And, maybe, just maybe some of you who are not Black can join in as an act of solidarity to build the kind of future we need.
None of these candidates deserve your vote.
Rinaldo Walcott is the Director of Women and Gender Studies at University of Toronto and a Broadbent Institute Fellow. He has tweeted to both the Chow and Tory campaigns the above concerns. They have not replied.