Editors' Letter: A Rare Opportunity

Mayor Olivia Chow arriving on her first day in July. Photo: D. Gray-Donald

The switch from summer to fall is underway, and that means the city is buzzing. School is back in, and event calendars are absolutely packed.

For example, Venus Fest is back this year for the weekend of September 21 to 23. Saturday’s headliner Louie Sanchez is on this issue’s cover. Eirene Cloma, a.k.a. Louie Sanchez, is a multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter who is queering harana songs (Filipino-style serenades).

This is The Grind’s sixth issue, and in addition to our news section, we’ve been steadily beefing up our event listings as well. There were zero events in our inaugural issue in October 2022, 10 in our second, then 46, then 70, then 195 last issue. There are over 300 September and October events listed in this issue, including music, theatre, literary, visual art and more. Head to pages 18 to 21 to check it out!

There is also a lot happening politically.

The summer, of course, started off with a mayoral election. In a crowded field, two candidates pulled away from the pack. Buoyed by backing from the NDP establishment and a strong showing in advance voting — and despite a weaker day at the polls — Olivia Chow narrowly won out over Ana Bailão. Bailão had the backing of much of the Liberal Party, and endorsements from the Toronto Star editorial board and conservative ex-mayor John Tory.

The Grind was maybe the only city-wide print publication to endorse Chow. We warned that Bailão would only continue Tory’s legacy of helping the rich pay low taxes while city services such as transit, waste collection and parks keep getting worse.

But our endorsement of Chow came with a caveat: people shouldn’t sit back and wait for positive changes to arrive, but should instead take this opportunity with a receptive mayor in office to push even harder. We should be even louder and bolder in our demands to fix the problems in this city.

Without that, it is too easy for a well-intentioned mayor to be pulled in the opposite direction by, for example, the city’s powerful business lobby and by senior city staff determined to keep carrying out Tory’s agenda.

Early credit is due, though. Many of Mayor Chow’s new appointments of councillors to the city’s various committees and boards look promising. For example, see TTCriders’s positive assessment of the new TTC board on page 6. And after years of campaigning from many groups, the new mayor and council are pursuing new revenue-generating tools, including a parking levy, a vacant home tax, and more, though it looks like implementation will take a while.

Chow also announced the extension of service of public pools later into September, and improvements to TTC bus service frequency on a number of routes. She also stepped in to delay Artscape from going into receivership and possibly ceasing to exist. That would be a huge loss, given the organization’s importance in the arts community.

These changes came about not just because of a compassionate mayor, but because people organized and made demands about these issues for years — and because this mayor is more willing to listen and act in those directions than Tory ever was.

But now is not a time to let our guards down.

We were troubled to see Chow appoint former cop Jon Burnside to the police services board, and by the lack of outcry. The city’s finances are dire, and in recent years nearly every city service has faced cuts. That is, except the police, who have been showered in cash, getting a $48-million budget increase this past winter. Appointing Burnside to the board is likely a guaranteed vote for whatever the cops want.

Chow has been critical of the police in the past, and the police association made ridiculous accusations this summer about how the new mayor didn’t express her condolences when a police dog was killed while searching for a suspect. (The cops shut down busy downtown streets during a weekday to hold a memorial for the dog, because they can do whatever they want.)

So, maybe she was trying to make some peace with the police by appointing Burnside. But we should be critical of these kinds of decisions. If we want this administration to rein in spending on police, and redirect funds to services that better assist people in this city, we have to call this out and demand better.

For instance, on page 9, Jacob Pesaruk analyzes Chow’s handling of the asylum seeker crisis at the beginning of her term, which saw many of them sleeping on downtown streets for weeks while the three levels of government argued over funding. But, as Pesaruk writes, the solutions lie in how communities themselves respond to those disputes in the future.

The not-so-hidden secret this summer was that many people have been taking matters into their own hands.

In our last issue, we took you inside the rent strikes in York South-Weston and Thorncliffe Park, with tenants unwilling to succumb to their landlords' huge rent hikes and renoviction attempts. Since then, not only have some of these tenants emerged from the biased Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board victorious (page #), but even more tenants joined them either in solidarity or by starting their own strikes.

And it’s not just tenants.

Over 3,000 Metro grocery store workers at 27 stores went on strike this summer for a month, rejecting the insulting wages the employer offered (after eliminating the “hero pay” from the start of the pandemic). After rejecting an initial offer from their union, Unifor, earlier in the summer, they won more substantial raises by the end of August.

This showed that workers are not willing to accept the poor conditions and low pay they’ve been told they have to live with for so long. Similarly, as of writing, TVO workers have been on strike, demanding wage increases after years lagging below the inflation rate.

And provincially, Housing Minister Steve Clark has resigned after intense, unrelenting public pressure for his role in opening the Greenbelt to development, after investigative journalists and governmental watch dogs blew the lid off the story. (We have to acknowledge though that the new minister, Paul Calandra, who oversaw horrific suffering, neglect and death as minister of long-term care during the pandemic, may be even worse than Clark.)

This moment feels like one of growing consciousness, that while the rich keep stacking up dough (Metro’s profits were way up, and TVO keeps adding high-paid executives), workers deserve better. More than that, we can demand better together, and we can win it together.

This issue marks one full year of publishing The Grind. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’re excited to keep at it, and to be with you for the city’s next chapters.

This letter appears in the Sept/Oct 2023 issue.