New Season, New Election, New Opportunities

The Grind Editors
It’s finally spring and, after the greyest winter in years, the sun is out again.
For many, this is a time of reconnection, especially those of us who have been limiting our indoor socializing to protect ourselves and others from covid.
This season of renewal also brings a surprise election for Toronto’s next mayor.
We’re often told that elections are about finding the candidate you’re most aligned with, then helping propel them into office, whether by voting or supporting their campaign.
At The Grind, we invite you to think about this election from a different perspective. After all, with around 50 candidates vying for the mayor’s seat, and with voter turnout expected to be low, this election could easily be decided by just a few thousand votes or even fewer.
What if we take this as an opportunity to talk among ourselves about the often-neglected issues we care about, shape conversations about the future of the city, and build connections that will last beyond the election? An election is, after all, a great conversation starter.
Not that communities are waiting for elections to change things.
We stopped by the Crescent Town Tenants Union Iftar in East York in April, pictured on the cover of this issue. Iftar is the evening meal Muslims have to break their fasting during Ramadan. It is a significant event, representing shifts and new beginnings, and is a time for sharing, eating, and praying together and building community.
Early in the pandemic, Crescent Town residents talked to each other when work stopped and many got behind on their rent to landlord Pinedale Properties. Those conversations led to a successful rent strike among people in around 300 units, where they collectively didn’t pay rent or paid what they could, and managed to stay in the building.
The landlord later issued eviction notices to many of those tenants. Tenants stayed put and in 2021, the Landlord and Tenant Board, usually very favourable to landlords, ruled against Pinedale, finding that they were issuing eviction notices as a form of retaliation against tenants. Pinedale attempted to have the eviction applications heard again, but that was thrown out in April of this year.
This is a rare win amongst a sea of demoralizing evictions across Toronto (for example, read about an ongoing eviction on page 11), and in large part was due to the community coming together, sharing information about their situations, and not backing down.
Now imagine what could happen if many more of us started having conversations about the major issues in our lives here in Toronto.
More than in a typical election, candidates will be chasing small pockets of votes this time around. In 2022, there were 1.9 million eligible voters, and around 550,000 votes cast for mayor. With the same turnout, assuming the candidate who gets just 20 per cent of the vote could reasonably win (which is what the polling is looking like), they would only need 110,000 votes, compared to the 342,000 John Tory got in 2022.
What will we tell candidates they need to do for our votes? Or, to come at it another way, what issues, proposals and policies can we talk about, and how can we take action in ways that will be impossible for candidates to ignore?
We can discuss proposals for more public and non-profit housing, either through new buildings or via expropriation of existing ones. As researcher Ricardo Tranjan points out on page 10, this kind of housing is far cheaper than the for-profit housing which dominates the market and which most candidates currently favour.
We can talk about the need for better protection for tenants, and take action to support tenants unions resisting unfair treatment by landlords.
We can get involved in TTCriders’ advocacy calling for better, more affordable TTC service (see page 8), and support their outreach activities, like talking to people outside subway stations.
We can discuss and then propose ways the city can fund transit, not just by asking the provincial and federal governments, but potentially by upping taxes on the rich (so many in Toronto!), on real estate speculation, and on parking lots.
Using our collective voices, we can call for better bike safety, like bike lanes, and more effective enforcement of traffic laws to keep cyclists safe. (See our cycling spread on pages 12 and 13).
And we can make sure the conversation focuses on investing seriously in the shelter system so no one is unhoused in this city.
In other words, we don’t have to wait for a candidate. In fact, waiting for a candidate is usually a recipe for not changing much and few connections being built.
That’s not to say there aren’t some particularly bad candidates. As you’ll read on pages 6 & 7, several mayoral hopefuls would keep the city going on the same bleak path it has been on. Some, like former police chief Mark Saunders, will attack the vulnerable even more, and give unlimited support to the police, a scary prospect. If you cast a ballot more to keep someone out of the mayor’s chair this election rather than to enthusiastically vote someone in, we don’t blame you.
Beyond just voting in this weird little mayoral election with huge consequences, let’s talk to each other and build collective agendas and networks that can live on beyond the spring.
We hope you enjoy this issue of The Grind, our fourth, and this season for renewal, reflection and sun.

This article appears in the May/June 2023 Issue.