Scandals have put our city on display internationally during this municipal election, but before the scandals Torontonians could be proud of our own local heroes that helped to build the city’s positive reputation.
Heroes who have been close to the heart of the city’s needs, listening, caring, acting — all for the purpose of strengthening the public good in our city. They have given us a legacy that has helped to build a better Toronto.
Think of Jane Jacobs the urban planner who fought the Spadina expressway, Charles Pascal who helped bring in all day kindergarten which is the first major social program in years, Dr. Sheela Basrur our late beloved Medical Officer of Health who led the fight against SARS, Reverend Brent Hawkes who fought for equal rights including the right to marry for lesbians and gays.
I add Olivia Chow because she has been on the forefront of just about every struggle for justice in this city. Talk about public good!
Olivia helped ‘pave’ the way for bike lanes, implemented the student Metropass and initiated translation in over 140 languages for 911 calls.
When a Toronto Sun reporter called me on a freezing Sunday morning in 1997 to tell me that yet another homeless man had frozen to death in a city parking garage it was Olivia, the a city councillor, who worked with me to hammer out a press release calling for more shelters and keeping up the pressure for results.
She knew how to access resources like tents and sleeping bags to help convince street youth to leave their squat in a contaminated silo on the city’s waterfront.
More important, she knew the value of the long-term solution — affordable housing.
She joined me and former Toronto mayors John Sewell and Barbara Hall on a community walk in the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood to showcase good housing and to call for the federal government to fund more.
It was Olivia, as an NDP MP, who ensured $1.6 billion for affordable housing was added to the 2005 federal Liberal budget.
For decades, Olivia was also the mover and shaker at City Hall on child and youth issues, women’s rights, affordable daycare, student nutrition projects, AIDS grants funding, immigration and literacy.
She was a brilliantly effective leader on city council because she worked across party lines.
This election has focused mostly on transit and it’s great that people in our city care about it.
Olivia’s transit plan is the one that reaches out to also include the economically struggling parts of the city, where needs are greatest.
She recognizes you also have to have somewhere to transit to and from.
A parent needs to be able to get to a childcare spot that is safe and affordable.
A senior needs to know they can still access their fitness program at the seniors centre.
A new Canadian needs to know their library will still have English as a Second Language classes to take.
Olivia is not the loudest shouter in macho election debates, but she has always shone in her unpretentious dedication to social justice, urban progress and equality.
Her ability to make city hall work has produced results for the citizens.
We need her strengths more than ever.
Cathy Crowe is a long time Street Nurse, author of ‘Dying for a Home. Homeless Activists Speak Out’ and filmmaker (Home Safe Calgary, Home Safe Toronto).
This piece originally appeared in the Toronto Sun and is reprinted with permission from the author.
Photo: flickr/Olivia Chow