How to Decide Who to Vote For
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How to Decide Who to Vote For

Toronto activists, academics, and community organizers explain what issues voters should consider before they head to the polls.

Photo by asianz, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

On October 27, Toronto voters will determine the future of this city. With the 2014 municipal election just days away, candidates are campaigning harder and louder than ever—but how are voters supposed to decide who should lead Toronto through the next four years? We asked some of the city’s top activists, academics, community organizers, and politicians to explain what they think voters should ask themselves before they head to the polls.

Here’s what they had to say…

Dr. Enid Slack
Director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs

“Toronto voters should be thinking about the services and infrastructure they want the City to provide and how to pay for them, because the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ rings true. Mayoralty candidates are promising to find spending efficiencies, invest heavily in critical infrastructure projects (such as transit lines), and reduce the city’s debt, all while holding property tax increases to the rate of inflation (or less). This political narrative, however, does not reflect the true state of Toronto’s finances.

“A recent report of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (Is Toronto Fiscally Healthy? A Check-up on the City’s Finances) concluded that there are few expenditure efficiencies to be found. Residential property taxes have been growing at less than the rate of inflation and are low compared to other GTA cities. The City’s debt load is relatively modest and manageable for a large city. The report’s critical conclusion was that, going forward, it is going to be very difficult to keep existing infrastructure in a state of good repair or invest in major new infrastructure without new sources of revenue. Toronto voters and candidates will have to choose between paying more or getting less of the services and infrastructure they want.”

David Soknacki
Former mayoral candidate, former city councillor, entrepreneur

(Answer in the form of a haiku)

“Servant as leader:
Smart, compassionate, honest
Both hedgehog and fox”

Dave Meslin
Artist, organizer, founder of the Toronto Public Space Committee, and co-founder of Spacing magazine

“There are two ways of looking at leadership. One is an old-fashioned, top-down approach that places heroic expectations on the shoulders of a leader, as we hope that they’ll lead us—their passive followers—into the holy land. The other form of leadership is about empowering the masses, turning the decision-making hierarchy upside down, sharing power, and embracing participatory democracy. I’m more interested in the second approach. So when I’m deciding who to vote for this month, for councillor, mayor, or trustee, I’m not looking at their transit policy, tax policy, or daycare policy. I’m looking at one thing only: does this candidate understand bottom-up democracy? And what does this candidate have in their platform about civic engagement? If elected, how will they help create a culture of participation in Toronto? Specifically, I’m looking for commitments about participatory budgeting, voting reform, an inclusive planning process, fostering neighbourhood councils, improved communications from City Hall, open data, increased transparency, and the creation of public meeting spaces. Remember: whoever wins, we’re gonna be stuck with them for four years. So forget about their transit plans. The real question is: How will they help us find our collective voice, every week, during the next four years?”

Marwa Eldardiry
Community leader, social activist, and community housing advocate

“When looking for leadership of any kind, we should look for a leader with good character. Although it isn’t always apparent, we should still factor it in as one of the criteria to consider. Other things to consider are the promises candidates make and what they say they stand for. Their actions will always speak louder than words, but past experience and accomplishments will shed some light on what they are good at and their ability to execute their plan. It is always helpful to understand what candidates will do, how they will do it, and what they’ve done in the past that shows they are capable of doing what they say they will do.

“A great city is an accommodating city. Accommodating in terms of affordability (food, shelter, child care, education, etc.), accessibility, and all-encompassing for the differences we all have. Affordable and accessible housing and health care are a must, along with job creation and job opportunities close to home and an effective transportation system for all. That being said, a good leader will address these issues.”

Vass Bednar
Deputy director of the Cities Initiative at the Rotman School of Management’s Martin Prosperity Institute

“Government no longer has a monopoly on policy-making and problem solving. There are many actors in the urban space—think tanks, academics, non-profits, and community groups—ready to work with council to define policy problems and identify efficient solutions. With that in mind, you could ask yourself whether the candidate that you are considering supporting demonstrates a candid willingness to listen and actively engage with thought leadership as part of problem-solving; and whether they have a real appetite for evidence-based, data-driven debate versus anecdotal problem definition. Ask whether their policy proposals and positions are rooted in research, or seem totally random and unsubstantiated. Why have they prioritized certain objectives over others? Is their vision sufficiently aligned with the contemporary challenges Toronto faces?

“Most of all, when you go to the polls, look for a candidate whose campaign is marked by a true commitment to collaboration—someone who is as comfortable asking questions as they are answering them. City Hall was designed to foster rigorous debate and iterate consensus.”

Doug Kerr
LGBTQ community activist, consultant, and educator

“I think the city councillor races are particularly important this year. I’m paying attention to a number of city councillor races. It would be great to have new voices on council next term. Remember that incumbents have a lot of built-in advantages, like name recognition and office budgets, that challengers may not have. There are some great new people stepping up to run for council and I think these candidates deserve a serious look—many of them bring skills and knowledge that council really needs. I’m hoping that we have more councillors who are strong bridge-builders and who are able to work across ideological and political lines. After so many years of increasing polarization, we need council to work together better. In addition, council is still overwhelmingly white, mostly male, and older. It would be great to see more diversity on council—more people of colour, younger people, more LGBTQ people. Every year that goes by, Toronto becomes more diverse and this is just not reflected in our City leadership yet. Hoping that this changes in 2014.”

Abby Plener
Steering committee member for Women in Toronto Politics

“Through my civic engagement work with Women in Toronto Politics, I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with candidates and voters who care deeply about our city. There’s a palpable desire among Torontonians to reimagine the status quo and elect leaders who we can truly hold accountable. The combination of extremely competitive mayoral, city council, and school board races, along with a hyperactive #TOpoli Twittersphere, means people are paying attention to municipal politics more than ever. We deserve leaders who embody that same energy and desire for change. After hearing the same talking points over and over, we need to think about who has the integrity and the vision to actually move the conversation forward. Who can move past the divisive rhetoric and start forming policies that will serve our communities better? Who will value the input of their well-informed constituents and local community leaders to propel ideas forward that solve our problems and fulfil our needs? You can look for answers to these questions by using our candidate comparison tool, the Position Primer. I hope when voters go to the polls next week, they’ll vote for candidates who truly represent their values and the best this city has to offer.”

Geoff Cape
CEO of Evergreen

“History looks fondly upon Toronto’s visionaries. From large-scale planner R.C. Harris to street-view observer Jane Jacobs, all of them had grand ideas for their beloved city. But in their day, most of Toronto’s visionaries faced incredible opposition. Residents voted against city planner R.C. Harris’s Prince Edward Viaduct in a referendum in 1912. The Spadina Expressway was fully under construction before city-planning idealist Jane Jacobs helped get the provincial government to withdraw its support for the project.

“What I am missing in this election campaign is vision. Is there an opportunity to think big, city-wide ideas while still keeping a close eye on ensuring neighbourhoods remain human-scaled? What this campaign needs is a bold leader who thinks past the four-year election cycle and articulates a vision for a great future, a vision over a series of projects, a vision for a better city. The candidates today are consumed by debates about the problems related to the economy, nightmare gridlock, and crumbling community housing. Indeed, challenging issues. I believe however the discussion should go beyond solving problems—it should focus on how Toronto should step up and claim what we already know: that Toronto is the greatest city in the world, with potential to be even better.”