It’s time for new voices on Toronto city council

The 2018 municipal elections are upon us and it’s time to engage locally and support movements toward better representation on our elected councils across the country.

Over the past few years community-led initiatives, such as Women Win Toronto and Operation Black Vote Canada, have been working to recruit, train and deliver wraparound supports for first-time women candidates from diverse communities.

It was heartbreaking this summer to witness the surprise move to reduce the number of Toronto city council seats by Premier Doug Ford while the election was already underway.

There were women who did everything right. Women who spent years strengthening their relationships with local community leaders, stepping outside their comfort zones with fundraising, and making life-altering decisions to prepare their families and employers for the campaign period.

To have the game change so significantly while the election was in progress was an affront to their efforts. And we lost some truly great voices as a result.

The day after Ford’s historic election-meddling decision in Toronto, I had lunch with Amber Morley, who is running to represent my ward at City Hall. Her campaign team was shaken but determined.

She decided to carry forward in the Ward 3 competition. She spent years working in municipal politics, learning how to navigate the decision-making processes to bring better representation to her community. She’s the real deal.

I believe leadership is best when transitioned. We achieve more as communities when burnt-out leaders make room for visionaries like Amber Morley with the motivation to affect positive change.

The race in Toronto’s Ward 7 is a perfect example of stale leadership in dire need of transition. The incumbent councillors’ leadership styles are dismissive of their own constituents and at times detrimental for those living on the margins.

Out of this community comes TDSB trustee Tiffany Ford. Her deeply rooted connection to her community, dynamic political experience and lived experience are exactly what Toronto needs on council right now. Her campaign is earning support from all corners of the city as she speaks truth to power.

Women’s representation in municipal government across Canada currently sits at 24 per cent. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has designed strategies and programs to close the gender gap in municipal governance, aiming for at least 30 per cent representation by 2026.

Under the leadership of Councillor Yolaine Kirlew and Councillor Joyce Timpson, Sioux Lookout was one of five municipalities across Canada to pilot an FCM initiative called Diverse Voices for Change. They consulted with community groups and identified barriers facing women, and in particular Indigenous women, as they seek participation in municipal government bodies. They took this information and developed materials and strategies to help underrepresented groups navigate local political processes, and to feel welcomed within them.

In London, Ont., another city piloting the Diverse Voices project, Arielle Kayabaga was the only woman campaigning for Ward 13, fighting it out against eight male opponents — until one of them decided to end his campaign and endorse Kayabaga at the final debate. His support reflects the role men can play to create more space for diverse voices in leadership.

There is a commonality among the women who have put their names forward for the first time in these municipal elections. They are functionaries. They are each running in an effort to do something rather than to be somebody.

Municipalities require fresh thinking to help shape the Canada of the future on a local level. We need visionary leadership to find creative solutions to the complex challenges facing our cities, ranging from transit planning to managing the local impacts of cannabis legalization.

Talk to your friends and neighbours about the election. Take a serious look at the candidates in your ward. If someone inspires you, and you’re able, consider supporting her campaign with a donation or with your volunteer hours.

Most importantly, make a plan to vote. If Election Day is busy for you, look into advance polls, which may be open near you today.

We each play a role in helping ensure our local decision-making bodies have diverse voices at the table in order to affect positive, sustainable change.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @goocht

(Published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, October 14, 2018)