When Alejandra Bravo runs for office, she literally runs—her volunteer team can barely keep up as she goes from door to door. She keeps it short: saying hello (switching from English to Portuguese to Italian) and reassuring the would-be constituents who answer the door that she’s a member of their community, in it with them, and that she’ll be back again soon. She’s friendly but matter-of-fact, knows people don’t have a lot of time, and speaks about the importance of raising money but spending it on the right things.
What she’s been hearing at those doors (or at least what we heard the day we followed her for a canvass): there are no banks close by, no nearby dumpsters—basic amenities are in short supply. Her first question is always to ask someone if they vote; more often than not the answer is no. Residents in Ward 17 are talking a lot about jobs and the need for more of them, too. One man she spoke with said simply, “They cut our bus service but increased our bills.” Ward 17 has substantially lower education rates than the average in Toronto; understanding both the socio-economic complexities of this situation and how practically to go about addressing them is essential for good representation in Ward 17.
Alejandra Bravo understands both of these things and a great deal more besides. She would be an excellent representative for those residents, an inspiring voice on council at large, and she has our wholehearted endorsement in this election
There’s a story Bravo tells often. When she was three years old and her family had just arrived here from Chile after the coup, they put her in a local daycare. One of the daycare workers stole the gold earrings she was wearing—a birthday present from her aunt—during naptime. Bravo woke up as it happened. She didn’t say anything at the time, didn’t know what to do. When she got home, she told her parents, who also didn’t say anything, out of fear of losing the daycare spot entirely: “They had no trust in authority, they felt so on the margins.” She struggled, as many young immigrants do, watching her parents try to build a new life, and with her own attempts to integrate. She dropped out of high school: “I had good grades but was maybe not the best kid…so this is from personal experience, I know that you don’t throw people away when they’re struggling.”
She’d always been a political activist, she says, but “the real shift for me happened when I became a mother.” She got involved in her kids’ school, fought against Mike Harris’s eduction cuts, began making deputations at City Hall. Now, decades after she first arrived here, giving people a voice and a way of standing up for themselves has become a hallmark of Bravo’s work and her campaign. In eight years of work for the Maytree Foundation, in her work with Art Starts and a number of other community organizations, Bravo has dedicated herself to developing capacity, in people and in communities, in mentoring future leaders and helping people learn how to engage more effectively in the political process.
Her first campaign was in 2003, and a lot of it was “just making a point…a lot of people said a young progressive woman couldn’t win”; she lost by 780 votes. In 2006 she ran again, losing by 280 votes. “It’s been a continuous [process], trying to build social capital with people who have a lot of things that they might distrust about each other but in the end have a common interest.” Bravo sat out the last election but says that “running for council this time for me is different because we’ve got a councillor who’s got a record, he aligned with Rob Ford…and now I think people have a real choice, an appetite for change.”
That councillor is Cesar Palacio; he’s voted with Rob Ford about 75 per cent of the time over this term of council, including votes to cut TTC service and increase fares—a particular concern for Bravo, as Davenport has a higher ratio of transit riders than most wards in Toronto. The ward has also suffered from a loss of manufacturing jobs, which remain a main—if diminishing—employment sector in that part of the city. Bravo wants to address this via a number of strategies, such as requiring that local employment becomes a condition of contracts when companies do business with the City of Toronto, and signing a binding community benefits agreement with Metrolinx, which would require they hire a certain percentage of their construction workforce locally. “That might seem unambitious,” she says, “but really breaking through on expecting more from infrastructure projects and public dollars” is one of the key points of influence council has when it comes to having an effect on employment issues. “We need to stop relying on gentrification [to bring about economic development],” Bravo goes on. Zoning decisions that preserve employment lands are another case where she sees the opportunity for City Hall to safeguard jobs in Toronto.
“There’s constant pressure to make cuts,” she concludes, to outsource jobs and reduce wages. “There’s a line of thought that says we should pay everyone minimum wage. That doesn’t help anybody. If we actually started to leverage opportunities—like the $10 million that’s going into the BMO Field expansion—and make that a local hiring priority, that would be amazing… We have to switch from talking about poverty to lifting the floor for people.”
Ward 17, Alejandra has your back. She has more than earned your vote on October 27.