The Ontario NDP president placed second in Ward 42 in 2010, and is running again this year.
Neethan Shan, council candidate for Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River, is no stranger to political campaigns. He’s served as president of the Ontario NDP since 2012, held office as a York Region District School Board trustee from 2006 to 2010, and run for MPP and councillor—albeit with less than stellar results.
In the 2010 municipal election, he lost the Ward 42 race to Raymond Cho, who has represented the area since before amalgamation. The following year, Shan ran provincially as the NDP candidate for Scarborough-Rouge River, and finished a close second to Liberal Bas Balkissoon. In this year’s provincial election, Shan again ran for MPP, and again lost to Balkissoon. Cho contested the same riding, however, as a Progressive Conservative, and Shan beat him by more than 1,300 votes.
Outside of politics, Shan has a long history of outreach work with youth and ethnic communities, particularly in the Malvern area. He is also the executive director of the non-profit Council of Agencies Serving South Asians. A Tamil born in Sri Lanka, Shan came to Canada as a young refugee. That background, he says, gives him insight into the struggles of so many Ward 42 residents—“People who are coming to this country or people who have been marginalized through class or gender or [culture].”
Transit policy is a major component of Shan’s platform—and it’s a key issue for Scarborough voters. He is in favour of a Scarborough subway, which he says will be the fastest way for residents of Ward 42 to get to work or school downtown. Scarborough Rapid Transit has been a “symbol of failure,” he says, because of overcrowding, delays, and breakdowns. But he believes Toronto should also consider improving the affordability and frequency of service on existing TTC routes and on Wheel-Trans.
In an interview with Torontoist, Shan spoke extensively about unemployment and underemployment among youth and immigrant populations in Ward 42. “If you can’t have a sustainable job where your credentials are recognized, everything else becomes secondary,” he said.
As a means of creating jobs for youth, Shan wants City infrastructure development projects to include community benefit agreements, through which young local residents would be offered work. He also wants to bring job fairs and skills-building workshops to his ward. And, he says, federal and provincial policies on recognizing foreign professional qualifications should be amended so that new Canadians are able to navigate the process more quickly and affordably. (Such changes are not, he acknowledges, within the purview of a city councillor, but he wants to take a lead role in advocating for community causes at the provincial and federal levels—a responsibility he says all councillors should have.)
On finance, Shan believes City funding priorities need to be re-examined. “There is a serious look we need to have in terms of some of the major costs we have. Policing budget for example,” he says. “I don’t think there’s enough being invested into community centres, libraries, social programs, whether its funding directly from City revenues, or its coming from other revenues from other levels.”
To fund these social programs, Shan says, reasonable levels of taxation are required. “Taxes are a major source of revenue that should not be overlooked,” he says. “I think we’ve done a good job making sure the taxes are going up in ways that are affordable. We have to have inflation based increases. At some point we might have to have slightly higher increases to support programs.” Shan also supports revenue tools other than the property tax—such as the land transfer tax.
But Shan also believes spending on social programs should be divided between multiple levels of government. He would like to see Queen’s Park spend more on Toronto’s social services, either by subsidizing municipal costs or assuming responsibility for certain services that are currently handled by the City. “Cities have a responsibility to take care of their residents, but provincial governments can’t wash their hands of social responsibilities like housing people in low income situations and so on,” he says.
He also wants the City to do a better job of consulting residents on budget decisions. “We have not had budget consultations in our ward,” he says. “[Consultation] usually happens as a Scarborough-wide thing … It doesn’t usually reflect the various dimensions of diversity within the population of Scarborough.” He believes holding budget consultations in each city ward would give councillors a clearer sense of their communities’ wants and needs.
Shan is in favour of term limits for councillors; he suggests three terms would be a suitable maximum.
If elected to council, he will not give up his position as president of the Ontario NDP, and doesn’t see his party involvement as a hindrance to his campaign. “I’m not running on a party label,” he says. “I’m running as Neethan Shan, a candidate who has done progressive stuff in the community. But I’m not distancing myself from the NDP. I am the president of the party and I’m proud of it.”
One potential sore spot from Shan’s NDP work stems from the party nomination for the Scarborough-Guildwood riding in the run-up to a provincial byelection last summer. After Adam Giambrone won the nomination by a narrow margin, runner-up Amarjeet Kaur Chhabra cast doubts on the eligibility of some of the voters. Chhabra later declined to take legal action against the NDP but said in a statement that she “continue[d] to have concerns about the process followed at that nomination meeting.” She added that the lack of time before the byelection had influenced her decision to drop the issue.
Asked about the incident’s possible impact on his council run, Shan said that NDP were proud of the candidates they ran, that the party had dealt with Chhabra’s concerns, and that he didn’t think the issue would hurt his chances.