If we didn’t know better, we might have guessed a recent photograph of the top tier municipal politicians in the Southern Ontario region was a historical document taken 40 or 50 years ago. The picture revealed a homogeneous group that does not reflect the ethnic diversity for which the region has earned an international reputation.
In Toronto alone, with a population of close to three million people, half are from other countries. More than 40 per cent of Canada’s visible minorities live right here in this city where over 140 languages are spoken. Yet, who would know it by looking at the composition of our governments – municipal, provincial and federal?
After a particularly contentious three years at city hall, highlighted by news media fascination with the character and behaviour of current mayor, Rob Ford, a number of individuals interested in getting into the challenging sphere of municipal politics are readying themselves to campaign for the October 27 elections.
Ford and David Soknacki, former budget chief in the David Miller administration, are the names garnering early media attention as contenders. TTC chair, Karen Stintz, is also expected to enter the race. Others who are sure to get serious public and media attention given their already high public profiles include radio host and former Ontario Progressive Conservative party leader, John Tory and federal New Democrat Member of Parliament Olivia Chow – should they decide to run.
Despite the focus on the race for mayor, registration has also begun for the other council seats, as well as for school board trustees. Given the multi-ethnic character of Toronto’s population, we sincerely hope that candidates from the various visible minority communities that make up this city will step forward to seek election.
People come here from all over the world seeking a better life and in so doing contribute in countless ways to building this city, from starting businesses to joining the workforce, to enriching the arts community, to volunteering. We also need to see them in the various political arenas.
It is not enough for new Canadians to complain about the lack of representation from their community. People have to run for office. Their communities and, hopefully, other Canadians in their particular ridings or wards, will have to support them by donating to and working on their campaigns.
Elected officials are just that – elected. Nobody appoints them, so we can’t say that the powers that be are discriminating by not appointing candidates from our communities.
Of course, beyond municipal elections, the provincial and federal party leaders can do a much better job of running minority candidates in safe seats if they really want to reflect diversity, but on council and at the school board each candidate is on his or her own.
Another thing: Candidates have to be qualified for office and have a very clear idea of what they want to do if elected, and those ideas must resonate with a wide range of voters. Very often, there are people running for office for whom no one in their right mind would vote.
Organizations such as the non-partisan Operation Black Vote Canada (if it still exists) could work to recruit viable candidates. The same goes for other minority communities.
Serious candidates and their supporters must also make a concerted effort to reach people not only at their front door, which is first and foremost, but also to have a smart and sustained strategy in place to command media attention. Too often, mainstream media, especially, focus on the campaigns of the well-known politicians, few of whom are representative of our diversity. We have to challenge this and force our way to the front of the line.
The October 27 municipal elections are just months away so, for prospective candidates serious about public service in politics, in this or any other minority community, the time to start the campaign is now.