Image courtesy of Mohamed Dhanani.
One of the mantras of Toronto politics is that defeating a council incumbent is close to impossible. This election is putting that truism to the test. Several sitting councillors are facing strong challengers: Adrian Heaps, Anthony Perruzza, Sandra Bussin, and perhaps Cesar Palacio—all are in real races whose outcomes are not foregone conclusions. The councillor whose position is most precarious, however, is John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West). Parker won by just 214 votes against Mohamed Dhanani in 2006. This year, Dhanani is running again and has the support of several other Ward 26 candidates from 2006.
We chatted with Dhanani this week, to learn more about his campaign and priorities for Ward 26. (We also made multiple attempts to schedule an interview with Parker, to no avail.)
About the candidate:
Mohamed Dhanani came to Canada at age five from Tanzania. “I was raised by a single mom with three sisters,” he said, “so we grew up in social housing and landed in Toronto in 1987, and the first place I lived was Flemingdon Park, like many newcomers to the city of Toronto.” After earning a graduate degree from Yale, Dhanani returned to Toronto and worked a series of public- and private-sector jobs, including one at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. More recently, he worked for George Smitherman, as senior advisor during Smitherman’s time as Ontario’s Minister of Energy and Infrastructure and Deputy Premier. A few months after Smitherman left Queen’s Park to focus on his municipal run, Dhanani did the same.
On traffic congestion in Ward 26:
“The traffic and congestion is just absolutely crazy,” said Dhanani. “And you’ve got cars ripping through various neighbourhoods in this ward, because the Don Valley [Parkway] clogs up.” Dhanani sees this as both an inconvenience and as a threat to safety. “The number of car accidents in Ward 26,” he said, “is absolutely crazy.”
He sees transit not only as a solution to congestion, but also as something that might help underprivileged residents of Ward 26’s tower communities participate more fully in the life of the city. “It gives them access to job opportunities across the city that are much more accessible,” he told us.
On community services and economic development for residents of Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park:
“We’ve got highly educated, talented people who are working jobs that are well below their capacity,” said Dhanani, referring to the predominantly South Asian immigrant community that lives in the towers of Ward 26. “That’s not good for our economy, and it’s not good for these individuals, who are trying to earn a decent living, to give their families a decent quality of life. And so…council has to make its number one priority job creation and economic development in the city.”
Flemingdon Park is one of Toronto’s thirteen Priority Areas. A 2006 City report on the neighbourhood showed that youth unemployment was at that time slightly higher in Flemingdon Park than elsewhere in Toronto. Median and average household incomes in the neighbourhood were lower than they were in the city as a whole.
Dhanani is skeptical of the efficacy of Flemingdon Park’s “priority” designation.
“That’s one of the things that I find frustrating and that many people in Flemingdon Park find frustrating,” he said. “That even though it’s been given this designation, over the last four years nothing has been done to leverage the designation to really make some significant changes to the community.”
As councillor, Dhanani said he’d prioritize revitalization for Ward 26’s towers.
“If we’re creating kind of healthy, sustainable neighbourhoods, you want to have neighbourhoods that have mixed housing options,” he said. “Some that can be owned, some that can be rented at market rate, and some that can definitely be rented at income-tiered rent. And Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park is just this massive number of all-rental buildings. And many of them are not really in a state of good repair, either. So when I’m talking about revitalization, that’s what I’m referring to.”
Dhanani would also like to see more playgrounds and other types of community recreation spaces in Ward 26.
Dhanani supports Transit City, and is particularly dismayed at Rob Ford’s suggestion that the City scrap plans to build the Eglinton light rapid transit line (which would run through Ward 26), and focus instead on building a subway line to Scarborough.
“There’s several complications to this,” he said. “One, he wants to renegotiate funding that’s already been committed when the provincial government is facing a major deficit. They’re less than a year away from going into an election, okay? Two, in order to get the rest of that subway line built on Sheppard, I mean, you’re going to need planning, engineering reports, environmental assessments. I mean, this could take years.”
But Dhanani said he wouldn’t rule out what he called “creative ideas” to generate funds for transit expansion.
“I think realistically we’re going to have to start thinking about, like, a congestion tax, or some kind of dedicated funding that’s going to pay for transit expansion,” he said.
On the City’s financial situation:
“We definitely have to figure out what the priorities are for the City and focus the spending on those priorities,” said Dhanani. “Some tough decisions are going to have to be made, but we have to go about it in an intelligent way, we can’t just slash and burn.”
He cited his experience at PriceWaterhouseCoopers as evidence of his ability to balance budgets while keeping key priorities in mind.
On whether or not he’d be able to work with a mayor Ford:
“I will work with who the people of Toronto elect as their mayor.”
Additional reporting by Hamutal Dotan.
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