It was regrettable that a mayoral debate held recently in the Jane and Finch community, hosted by the community group Inner City Union (ICU), omitted to invite mayoral candidates who would be closely identified with such issues as poverty, policing and housing that relate to that community. Can ICU explain why candidates D!onne Renée and Dewitt Lee were not on the dais?
The oversight – or was it a snub? – did not go unnoticed by Renée who, given her consistent campaign message of inclusiveness for underrepresented communities, was insistent that she be given a seat on the dais.
Moderator and organizer Antonius Clarke reportedly explained that it was hard to include everyone at the table. But how then to explain that Clarke and ICU included Ari Goldkind, who is not one of the frontrunners, and not from the area or the community, yet no candidates from the Black community was included?
Renée and Lee are not unknown as candidates for mayor within this community. They were part of the dais guests at debates hosted by the Diversity Advancement Network and the Jamaican Canadian Association.
This was, by the way, the same debate that got media attention a few days before it was to be held because Doug Ford told organizers he would not attend if Goldkind was invited so there was a vacant seat available on the dais. At a debate hosted by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, it was Goldkind who had called Ford out to publicly reject the racial slurs attributed to his brother Mayor Rob Ford which, months before, had been captured on a video recording.
Because of her insistence, Renée was allowed three minutes to speak before she was made to leave the debate entirely.
With an election campaign period that is almost a year long, there is hardly any reason that all the people who register to run for office cannot be given the opportunity to present their platform in a public forum. By one estimate the mayoral campaign has featured 45 debates across the city. The nature of these debates is that groups which want to hear answers from the candidates regarding their vested interests organize them. In theory, people running for office have the chance to become more known to the public through the debates. The efficacy of these sometimes-raucous meetings is that campaigners who do not have the big money nor occupy the headlines as the front-runners do are allowed the opportunity to be seen and heard by more people. If it were not for those debates many voters would not have heard of any candidates other than the big names anointed by mainstream media as the ones that matter.
More than 60 candidates registered to run for the job of mayor, all of them paying their fees. While they all can’t be accommodated on one stage in any one debate, shouldn’t some of them be allowed to participate in one or more of these debates?
Some of these lesser-known candidates are quite earnest in their activism. They present ideas about improving this city that we may not hear from the front-runners, yet when they are designated as fringe candidates in the media, they are automatically dismissed as not being worthy of consideration.
When community groups exclude from their debates those who most closely have knowledge and insight into their concerns and who are drawn from those same communities, it sends a terrible message, both to those who eventually get elected and to those who aspire to participate, that we do not value our own enough to make sure they are at the table when it counts.
And when they care enough to try to have their voice heard, calling the cops to have them removed, as was the case with Renée in the ICU debate, is appalling.