iVote group discusses neighbourhood activism

iVote panel discusses community action in midst of Toronto municipal campaign: (l-r) Leonardo Zuniga, Darcy Higgins, Yvonne Bambrick, Roberto Garcia. (TARA_PANEL_E)

As mayoral candidates battled over the Vision for Toronto downtown this week, to much less fanfare, the Vision for Toronto Neighbourhoods panel took place in Thorncliffe Park. Whether due to the rain or difficulty locating the meeting, just a dozen people came out, a point that did not escape cyclist Yvonne Bambrick.

“So we’re going to have a meeting about cycling in Ward 26. So, people come out like this – hopefully it’s not raining and twice as many people come,” she said with a laugh.

iVote Toronto along with Food Forward hosted the event at the small Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Youth Centre. Unlike the major candidates’ debates, this community event encouraged residents to initiate change rather than wait for a new mayor.

iVote Toronto initiatives include a campaign to extent voting to permanent, non-citizen residents. The coalition partners with other groups to promote and support community involvement. The Toronto Cyclists Union, a cycling advocacy organization, is one of those partners and Yvonne Bambrick, director of communication spoke about beginning a ward advocacy group for cyclists.

“You start to talk about (things like), ‘Hey well I ride in this area and I’ve noticed this could work a lot better if there was a bike lane that took me from here to there.’ The idea being you start to talk about how you can improve your neighbourhood for cycling.”

Each panelist encouraged political engagement at the municipal level. Posters and pamphlets decorated the room as a reminder to vote on Oct. 25. As a part of the mayoral campaign, candidates have debated over the option of privatizing public utilities.

Roberto Garcia, community power services project co-ordinator for Ontario Sustainable Energy Association addressed the proposal of selling Toronto Hydro.

“So that’s why we talk about community power projects, where people, who may not have a suitable roof at home, can invest in the community centre’s rooftop or the nearby church’s rooftop. But a lot of this is much harder if we privatize a public utility,” he went on to say. “Toronto Hydro is there to facilitate our community power projects and our individual home-owner solar projects.”

The small audience posed numerous questions. One in particular that gave panelists pause for thought, was a request for a mayoral endorsement. Attendees nodded in encouragement for a response. Bambrick offered the Toronto Cyclists Union website as one that endorses candidates based on cycling issues and offered the following advice.

“I mean look at the people we’re recommending in your ward and then look more deeply at what else they have on their sites,” she continued. “You can always … pick up the phone and call their office … Usually they want to call you back because if you’re a voter they want your vote.”