On Monday, June 26, 2023, Toronto will elect a new mayor. The mayor, along with the rest of the municipal government, will strongly influence the conditions that keep older adults in their homes and communities, especially given the new “strong mayor” powers imposed by the provincial government. The mayor will lead determination of what public health, safety, housing, transportation, and recreational opportunities will look like. What happens in Toronto can also influence other cities throughout Ontario, so that’s why this election is so important.
We asked candidates to tell us about their vision for a healthy Toronto. Specifically, we asked them what they would do as mayor to:
- Help older adults remain safe, independent, and productive
- Strengthen public health, particularly for older adults
- Promote and support non-profit agencies that deliver home and community services
- Address long waiting lists for supportive housing
- Advocate to the province so that workers in home and community care earn as much as those in hospitals and long-term care
Ask, think, and then vote!
I am writing out my mayoral platform in long form essays rather than quick campaign promises. In response to your questions, I have written an essay on older adults in the city. You can read it here. All the best and please let me know if you have any other questions.
What new initiatives would you undertake to help older adults remain safe, independent, and productive? If we want older adults to remain safe, independent and productive in their communities, they have to have both meaningful input into design of their local environments, and the agency to make decisions on what matters to them. Without that, everyone from city planners to developers can unthinkingly create environments that are hostile to people with the financial constraints and mobility issues that come with age. I want to know where people’s voices are being heard, and where they aren’t, so conversations with seniors who work with others on quality of life in aging communities, like Denise Smith in one of my podcasts the last campaign, is essential to finding out where the problems are. Not every issue has an easy solution, but some do. Something as simple as placing a driveway differently can reduce noise and conflict with pedestrians, while low cost measures like including street benches and other resting places make it easier for older adults to keep walking around their communities.
How would you strengthen public health, particularly for older adults? To strengthen public health for an aging population, we need to make sure the key determinants of health are tended to in our city. These include the availability of fresh food, ample opportunity for exercise, social connections, and an accessible transportation network that allows people to travel where they need to go, including to their health care providers. There are low cost ways to allow such things to happen. We can allow fresh food to proliferate by removing zoning restrictions and permit fees for farmers markets and food vendors, and by making more public space available for gardens. We can make sure our parks and public places are designed with local seniors so they are accessible. We can encourage community programming that brings people together. And we can make sure we never again lock down or isolate seniors from their families and friends the way we did in 2020 and 2021.
How would you support non-profit community agencies that deliver home care and other supports to older adults living in the community? The city also needs to work with all those who are delivering home care and support to older adults. We can listen to local agencies to find out what barriers city government is putting in that prevents them from doing their jobs. And we can remove the barrier of transit fares, while providing high quality and reliable public transit, to makes it easy for both older adults and the caregivers who come to their homes.
How would you address the long waiting list for supportive housing units in Toronto Seniors Housing Corporation buildings as well as in those buildings that function as Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities? There are long wait lists for supportive housing units in city housing, and it can be difficult, and pricey, to get into or out of the existing so-called “Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities”. There is no single solution to an issue as big as housing for the hundreds of thousands of seniors in our city. The city must take a careful look at its budget to make sure that spending on housing goes where it will do the most good. And it needs to stop trying to solve the problem on its own. By removing the zoning and housing restrictions that prevent small-scale development and innovative options, we will be able to allow private, non profit and co-op housing providers to quickly meet many of the housing needs we have today.
How would you advocate to the province for wage equity so for workers providing home care and community supports are paid as much as those in hospitals and long-term care homes? Institutionalizing ourselves as we age is not an option that I desire for myself or anyone I love. So why should we have an economic system that pays more for institutional supports than local ones? Health care, how we pay for it, and who we pay, is a provincial issue, but the city can take a leadership role by advocating to the province for a city where aging in place is supported, not discouraged, by government policies.
Thank you for the email. Please see my responses below.
What new initiatives would you undertake to help older adults remain safe, independent, and productive? I will build on Toronto’s Senior’s Strategy v.2, to continue the work of supporting and protecting seniors in Toronto. I will prioritize action items that are partially implemented and continue to support ongoing ones. This includes:
- Continuing to support the work with the province to expand access to dental care for seniors
- Work with remaining wards to implement Active Living Fairs
- Continue to consult and work with seniors to ensure the Growth Plan is inclusive and accessible, and includes age-friendly principles.
How would you strengthen public health, particularly for older adults? Strengthening public health for older adults means strengthening public health for everyone – especially our most vulnerable. This involves a comprehensive approach to community safety and well being. It includes:
- Implementing community-based prevention programs to address violence. This requires recognizing the public health aspects of the issue, and empowering and resourcing grass roots organizations (i.e. myREST, Zero Gun Violence Movement), in a community by community response. Program structure can closely resemble the Communities that Care (CTC) initiative, developed by University of Washington researchers, that has shown significant promise, including a return on investment of $11 for every $1 spent.
- Establish more safe adult day shelters across the city and expand services to support unsheltered populations and those with mental health concerns and addictions in Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke and the downtown core.
- While some groups have excellent programs in the parks, we must unlock policies such that friends, families, and neighbours can have larger spaces to convene. If we want our City to heal, this must be prioritized. The application process for permits must be as responsive, accessible, and flexible for parents, non-English speaking immigrant communities, or seniors, as it is for large organizations.
How would you support non-profit community agencies that deliver home care and other supports to older adults living in the community? Toronto is facing unprecedented financial challenges. I will work with mayors across Ontario to create a sustainable revenue generation model for our cities, especially since we are the only province to have social assistance and housing downloaded to the municipalities. This will involve negotiation with the federal government to allocate 1% of the GST to Toronto. We are all struggling, and Toronto can help lead the charge for transformational change. This percentage can generate revenues close to $550 million for Toronto and it will grow with the economy. It will ensure that Toronto has the capacity to not only appropriately handle this COVID recovery period, but also be self-sustainable moving forward. Money from this revenue stream will be earmarked for social programs and social housing.
How would you address the long waiting list for supportive housing units in Toronto Seniors Housing Corporation buildings as well as in those buildings that function as Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities? I will work to speed up building approvals and cut red tape by implementing a conditional approval process. Toronto ranked last, across the country in approval times and charges for housing. According to Dave Wilkes from the Building Industry and Land Development Association, these approval times are four and a half times longer than the maximum allowed under the Planning Act .There is a roster of projects that are already funded and just awaiting approvals. Billions in the federal government’s National Housing Strategy have not been spent, and many Housing Now sites barely have shovels in the ground. This is about the political will to prioritize housing and prioritize the stated actions in the Housing TO Action Plan.
I will also bolster support for Housing Cooperatives to enhance the ability for Torontonians to age in place and for a mix of people with varied levels of income to live affordably in the City. Housing cooperatives will also help to address concerns around rent evictions as renters are included in decision making. Coops can also create a sense of community and well being that contributes to improved mental health. Further, these units allow surplus financial gains to be utilized for future improvements of the building/maintenance costs which will rise over time.
Lastly, I will increase support for Housing Cooperatives to enhance the ability for Torontonians to age in place and for a mix of people with varied levels of income to live affordably in the City. Housing cooperatives will also help to address concerns around rent evictions as renters are included in decision making. Coops can also create a sense of community and well being that contributes to improved mental health. Further, these units allow surplus financial gains to be utilized for future improvements of the building/maintenance costs which will rise over time.
How would you advocate to the province for wage equity so for workers providing home care and community supports are paid as much as those in hospitals and long-term care homes? I did this as a member of the City of Toronto Black Scientist task force, and will continue during my mandate. Many of these workers are from communities of colour. They are trying their best, and need the support of their governments. They were heroes during the pandemic, we should treat them as such now.
Be well and stay safe, Celina | www.celinaForMayorTO.com
Celina Caesar-Chavannes (she/her/elle), MBA, PhD (neuroscience) Student
My name is Kiri Vadivelu and I am running to be the next mayor of Toronto. I am a social justice activist and a member of the Municipal Socialist Alliance MSA which ran 10 candidates across southern Ontario last October, receiving about 15,000 votes. I was the MSA candidate in Scarborough Centre ward 21 gaining 1,800 votes. I am the first Tamil-Canadian to seek the mayor’s office in Toronto.
I immigrated from Sri Lanka to escape genocide of Tamils as a child, and successfully resisted illegal eviction of my family at the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board during the 2020 emergency lock down. I believe good housing is a human right. I am a founding member of the Scarborough Tenants’ Union , a leading voice of Toronto Acorn, and a committed member of Justice for Workers. I was a shop steward in the United Steelworkers Union where I fought for better working conditions, and was the recipient of a 2019 union leadership award.
Toronto is in crisis, the product of a failed capitalist system. Only socialist measures offer solutions. The MSA and I call for immediate mass social housing construction, expropriation of giant landlords, and free public transit. We seek to repair our schools, and cut police budget by at least 50%. We demand a climate justice agenda, replacement of the “strong mayor” powers with a grassroots participatory budget process, and steep taxation of the properties of big business and the rich.
What new initiatives would you undertake to help older adults remain safe, independent, and productive? Most seniors on fixed income rely on rent geared to income housing, public transit and use public parks with family members. Under socialist program, housing will be declared a human right in Toronto so no seniors will have to choose between paying rent or buying medicine. At the same time, students and seniors should never have to choose between bus fare and lunch in a wealthy city. Criminalizing poverty through expensive fare enforcement is unjust, not just a bad look for tourism.
Public transit will be free for all while promoting environmental and climate emergency policies. Instead of lecturing drivers to get out of their cars, MSA will invest in reliable, efficient public transportation to give workers, students and seniors a meaningful choice.
How would you strengthen public health, particularly for older adults? Rather than plundering the protected green belt, we will create more parks; not parking lots. Increasing the safety of pedestrians and cyclists will aid the transition to a greener, cleaner, healthier, more sustainable urban mode of transportation.
Under socialist mayor, schools and libraries will be adequately funded. Schools will have new extra curricular initiatives where students can interact with seniors directly to learn from their rich life experience, cultural history and indigenous community.
How would you support non-profit community agencies that deliver home care and other supports to older adults living in the community? Canadians pay highest cost for telecom services compared to all other big cities in the world. The monopoly on price fixing as result of Rogers and Shaw merger is an assault on economic democracy. It hurts the most vulnerable in our community. MSA will fight for economic democracy and replace monopoly with climate justice agenda.
Big corporations will be taxed more to make Toronto safe, vibrant and most diverse city in the world. Profits of the big corporations often end in offshore accounts, leaving the essential services and non-profit organizations to face the repercussions by over stretching the resources.
How would you address the long waiting list for supportive housing units in Toronto Seniors Housing Corporation buildings as well as in those buildings that function as Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities? As we come out of the long pandemic, Toronto still have no plans in place to address the needs of working, young and the vulnerable in the city. Media hype about crime but fail to report the fact that last year 187 Torontonians were killed due to lack of care. After all, most corporate media outlets are owned by few individuals, undemocratically. In such social condition where people die in our streets without a home, non-partisan means pro-establishment.
The MSA and I call for immediate mass social housing construction, expropriation of giant landlords and defund the police to fund community services in order to address the root cause of social problems in our city.
How would you advocate to the province for wage equity so for workers providing home care and community supports are paid as much as those in hospitals and long-term care homes? During the pandemic, Canadian armed forces exposed the gruesome conditions of our seniors subject to live, suffer and die as result of privatization of public service; where profit was more important than human lives. Under socialist system, all essential services will be publicly funded and managed to ensure no one is left behind in the most diverse city in the world.
Together, we can change the culture of city hall from oppression and exploitation to true democracy and representation. The proof is in the program, I invite you to read and share with everyone you care, instead of relying n the political options featured by the corporate media.
KIRI VADIVELU, Socialist for Mayor, Municipal Socialist Alliance
Web: https://kiri-vadivelu.ca | Twitter/ Instagram: kiri_vadivelu