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NEWS: New approach to local democracy (Dec. 2018)

December 30th, 2018 · No Comments

Newly-elected representatives say community is key

By Hannah Alberga

University-Rosedale’s newly-elected representatives plan to tackle their sprawling ward using a bottom-up approach. Some of the issues they’ll have to tackle include how to approach the recent handgun violence in Toronto, the affordable housing crises, and how the legalization of marijuana will affect public schools.

“I’m a firm believer that the community should be involved in decisions in the neighbourhood,” said Mike Layton (Ward 11, University-Rosedale). He believes he can strengthen local democracy in response to a shrunken Toronto City Council by treating communities as organizing units.

University-Rosedale encompasses an assortment of neighbourhoods, including the Annex, Chinatown, Summerhill, Rosedale, Kensington Market, Ossington Avenue, and the University of Toronto campus.

“We started off this election on the most terrible, terrible of terms. We have a premier in this province that has no problem with trampling all over the democratic rights of the people of the city of Toronto,” said Layton, while speaking to a crowd of supporters at The Garrison on election night.

Layton posted an overwhelming victory, receiving 22,370 votes, representing almost 70 per cent of the ward. Runner-up Joyce Rowlands got 4,231 votes, and Nicki Ward received 2,933. There were seven candidates in total.

This will be Layton’s third term on city council. He was elected in 2010 and 2014 as the councillor for Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina.

He may be serving a different community this time around, but his commitment is just as strong. University-Rosedale is a piece of Canada that he holds very dear to his heart — he grew up in the Annex and lived in Chinatown while studying at the University of Toronto.

“This is a coming home,” said Layton.

At 104,311, the population of his new ward is 64 per cent greater than his old one, so Layton needs to make sure that all the residents are accounted for.

“My plan is within the first couple of months of council to meet with residents’ associations and talk about what models we might be able to develop together,” he said. “It may be sort of a trial and error. We may have to get some things wrong so that we can get some things right.”

He wants to involve the community in decision-making, but doesn’t want volunteer associations — some of which are more built up and better financed than others — to be inundated with work. More importantly, all should have an equal say.

Layton said he’s going to look at other cities to see how decision-making is filtered to elected officials, admitting that he doesn’t have a model in mind yet.

One possibility may be establishing an advisory board of local community members that residents go to with issues before escalating to city council. He’ll have a better idea once city council has been briefed on the resources that are available to them.

Toronto District School Board Trustee Chris Moise (Ward 10, University-Rosedale and Toronto Centre) plans to work alongside Layton during this, his second term.

“I know what works and doesn’t work,” he said. “I’ll visit all of my schools within the first month. My principals all have my number and keep me in the know.” Moise has been an outspoken critic of the premier’s roll-back of the sex education curriculum, and said that he’ll ensure every student has access to mental health resources and a contemporary understanding of sex-ed.

He’ll also be relying on the community to advocate for the well-being of students in the ward.

“[The priority is making] sure our communities are involved in empowering our young people,” he said, pointing to a September protest by students from over 100 schools on the sex-ed rollback as an exemplary display of how students should be empowered to take a stake in their education.

Like Moise, Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee Norman Di Pasquale (Ward 9) values community involvement. Since this will be his first term, he admitted that he has a lot to learn and getting to know parent councils will be his first step.

“They are such a key point, I want them all to be connected with me and with each other,” he said.

Di Pasquale believes parents are the first layer of local democracy, and plans to create a mega Facebook group for all of his parent councils to encourage an open line of communication between schools.

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