Don’t be fooled by her baby face and youthful demeanour. Munira Abukar, whose leadership, wisdom and strength belie her 22 years, is among 14 contenders seeking to become the Etobicoke North (Ward 2) councillor.
The fourth of nine children and the daughter of Somali immigrants, Abukar was born and raised in the community.
“I know this ward like the back of my hand because I have lived in it my entire life,” she said. “When I knock on doors, community safety concerns, lengthy wait times for buses, increased accessible transit for people with disabilities and enhanced community space for young people to engage in recreational activities and social programs are at the top of their list.”
An ailing Rob Ford, who was the ward’s three-time councillor before his older brother Doug replaced him in December 2010, withdrew from the mayor’s race last Friday and revealed that he would be running for city council in Ward 2.
While the Ford brothers have held the riding for the last 14 years, Abukar dismissed the notion that their popularity in the riding is overwhelming.
“Ford Nation doesn’t exist here,” said the aspiring lawyer, who recently graduated from Ryerson University with an undergraduate degree in criminal justice. “It’s just a small pocket of loyal supporters that we are talking about. Overall, people are tired of not having their voices heard and they need change and a stronger voice to advocate for them. This community has huge needs which have to be addressed.”
Abukar’s leadership skills were evident in high school, Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy. She was a member of the children and women’s advocacy, social justice and philosophy clubs.
Three years ago, when the Toronto Community Housing Corporation was rocked by a scandal that led to the board’s dissolution, Abukar was elected to the board of directors as a tenant representative.
“I have been leading or have been in positions of leadership since I was 14 and I know the issues that affect this community because I have lived through them,” said the smart and articulate young woman. “I am not surprised when residents say they need me at City Hall because they know I will address their concerns.”
Growing up in Jamaica, Nadine Walker was exposed to community service at a young age.
The mother of two boys is challenging incumbent, Marilyn Crawford, for the Ward 1 local council seat in Ajax.
Walker helped family friend, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, a former Toronto resident who returned to Jamaica and was a government minister for four years, distribute flyers and election material in her St. Catherine Central riding.
“That was where my passion for volunteering was ignited,” said Walker, who migrated to the Greater Toronto Area nearly two decades ago and assisted Ajax-Pickering Tory candidate, Todd McCarthy, in last June’s provincial elections.
Contemplating running in municipal politics for the last two years, Walker threw her hat in the ring five months ago.
“I did my research and wanted to be clear that I understood local politics in this area and how best I could serve the people,” she said. “I didn’t enter the race with any pre-determined agenda.”
With voter turnout extremely low – 23.21 and 25.4 per cent – in the last two elections, Walker has big plans to restore electorate confidence.
“This (the poor turnout) demonstrates that the residents have lost hope, their voices and trust in those who serve,” she said. “To build a better city, promises are not just enough. Action is required immediately and my number one job is to be visible in the community, engage residents and keep them informed with council policy and decisions.”
If elected, Walker plans to – among other things – advocate for grants and incentive programs for youths to advance in science, technology and business development careers, promote local hiring by removing red tape and complex by-laws, and advocate for sheltered bus stops along the main bus routes.
A member of the Canadian Caribbean Cultural Association of Durham and City of Praise Community board, Walker owns a personal image and brand consultant business and plans to start a clothing line.
For the first time ever, Ajax voters are allowed to cast their ballots electronically in next month’s elections. They can cast their ballot 24/7 beginning October 20 online, by telephone or in person election day via an e-voting station on a laptop.
Allison Brown, a married mother of three children and registered nurse, is challenging incumbent, Vicky Dhillon, in Brampton Wards 9 and 10. He has been the ward’s councillor for the last eight years.
“My care, concern and passion for people are ideal for city hall,” said Brown, who migrated from Trinidad & Tobago at age four. “I am a servant leader.”
She pledges to help create opportunities for young people to become future leaders, devise a comprehensive growth plan to address growth demands and work with the private sector and unions to foster creative working benefits.
“As a councillor, I am confident that I will be able to work collaboratively with the mayor and other council members to promote the city’s commitment to sustainable development, protection of the natural environment, economic vitality and health communities through innovative and creative ideas,” said Brown.
A Registered Nurses Association of Ontario member, Brown has volunteered with the Associated Youth Services of Peel, Break Free Family Counselling Services and CIA Bounce, which is a Brampton-based development program for young basketball players.
Joy Robertson, who is running for city council in Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest, joins Abukar, Walker and Brown as first-time candidates.
The community advocate and organizer entered the race a week before nominations closed last Friday afternoon.
“Nobody seems to be paying attention to the members of the community who are struggling to make ends meet and are prepared to speak on their behalf,” said Robertson. “That’s why I decided to be a candidate. Many of our residents feel ignored and they have no intention of voting because they feel it’s not going to make a difference. They don’t have a voice and they are powerless.”
The executive director of Scarborough Village Residents Unite and former vice-chair of the Toronto District Catholic School Board parents advisory council, Robertson has been a ward resident for the last 18 years.
“I have been working on the ground plugging away to help enhance the lives of citizens here,” said the Guyanese immigrant. “I have never thought about becoming a politician but if that is what it’s going to take to bring about change for the betterment of the community, then that is what it’s going to be.”
Robertson is among seven candidates seeking to replace Gary Crawford, who was elected to Toronto city council four years ago.