Long-time Parkdale resident Charmain Emerson voted for incumbent Gordon Perks in the last two municipal elections.
This time, she won’t.
The former broadcaster and entrepreneur is among five contenders seeking to unseat Perks in the October 27 elections. He has been the Parkdale-High Park (Ward 14) representative at city hall since 2006.
“When I knock on doors, one of the residents’ main concerns is that the current councillor is not listening to their needs,” said Emerson who has lived in the community for 25 years. “They feel as if their complaints are falling on deaf ears.”
Two years ago, Perks was instrumental in Toronto city council passing an interim by-law prohibiting the opening of new bars and restaurants on Queen St W. between Dufferin St. and Roncesvalles Ave. The interim control by-law was repealed last July.
Emerson claims Perks’ action was designed to stem the growth of businesses, many of them owned by visible minorities.
“Parkdale has always been economically challenged and we have been fighting as a community to be a ‘have’ rather than a ‘have-not’,” she said. “Part of that is economic growth and we have seen several businesses open here in the last few years. Entrepreneurs have recognized the diversity and vitality here and they see this community as a great place to open a viable business.
“Gord, however, killed the economic growth of Parkdale. He was completely short-sighted as to what the community needed and what it began to thrive on. There are a lot of empty stores right now along Queen St. in this riding. What he did was not right. It was wrong and unfair.”
If elected, Emerson promises to be a strong voice for the community.
“I am a go-getter like my immigrant parents and I don’t intend to back down from big challenges,” she said. “I will help attract and grow businesses here, work to get better bike lanes and ensure that this ward becomes an expanded hub for new Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) service. I think it’s time for positive change.”
While this is her first foray into politics as a candidate, Emerson has always been politically conscious.
So moved was she by Barack Obama’s election as the United States’ first Black president that she and her family drove to Washington for the historic inauguration in January 2009.
“When he won, my entire body was filled with immense pride,” Emerson said with tears streaming down her face. “As I watched him and his family celebrate the momentous moment on stage after he was announced the winner, I turned to my mom, who was at our family home watching the events unfold on television, and told her that we have to go to the inauguration because this was such an important moment for us as a people. I wanted my kids to be part of it even though it meant they would be away from school for a few days. That didn’t matter. It was a road trip of a lifetime and one of the best experiences of our life.”
The daughter of Jamaican immigrants who lived nearly a decade in England before migrating to Canada in 1966 when she was just two years old, Emerson spent her childhood on Tyndall Ave. in the Parkdale community.
A London Transit Commission bus operator, Horace Mullings – Emerson’s father – was among the first set of Black TTC street car drivers. He was assigned to the 501 Queen and 504 King Streets routes for about seven years before quitting to become a real estate agent. Her mother – Daphne – was a nurse at The Hospital for Sick Children.
When the family moved to Mississauga, Emerson attended Holy Name of Mary College School and Lorne Park Secondary School and graduated from McMaster University in 1987.
Working part-time as a broadcaster with McMaster campus radio CFMU before completing her undergraduate degree, Emerson also had stints with CKBB in Barrie which closed in 2005 because of technical issues and lack of funding, Oakville’s CHWO which is now CFZM, CFTR and CBC as a freelancer.
After being a broadcast journalist for about a decade, the married mother of three teenage boys was an advisor in the Bob Rae government for two years and the founding president of Building Blocks Communications Inc. which she closed after being diagnosed with cancer in 2010.
“I lived for every day before I was diagnosed with the disease,” said the cancer survivor. “Being diagnosed made me realize just how precious life is and how much of it we take for granted.”
With a clean bill of health, Emerson is moving full speed ahead with her campaign.
“My husband views Parkdale as ‘Ellis Island’ (located in Upper New York Bay, it was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892-1954),” she said. “It’s where most of the new immigrants come when they arrive in this city for the first time. I came back here because I love it and I feel at home and so connected.”
Directly opposite Emerson’s campaign office is the Parkdale Intercultural Association and a few metres down the road are the Parkdale library, which pioneered the Toronto Public Library Black & Caribbean Heritage Collection and Parkdale Community Centre where she was a Parkdale Project Read volunteer.
“Some things might have changed in this community in the last four decades, but one that has remained the same is the diversity,” Emerson said. “That is why I love this community.”
By Ron Fanfair