Three of the candidates for mayor ventured deep into Parkdale last week; an instructive evening for all.
By: Joe Fiorito Columnist, Published on Wed Oct 22 2014
There was a big crowd at PARC on a recent Thursday night. I remind you that PARC — the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre, on Queen near Sorauren — is where people come who have mental health issues, or who are tired, hungry, cold or under-housed.
Many others also came — this is my neighbourhood, too — but all of us were there to listen to three of the candidates for mayor: Chow, Goldkind, Tory.
Ford didn’t show, even though the format meant he would not have to spar with Goldkind.
The format? Candidates were to speak for five minutes, and then answer for 25 minutes more; one after another, the stage not shared, and the questions spontaneous. Such a format skirts the usual rote assertions, personal attacks, sneering and shouting.
Some in the crowd came for the cookies; most came for the show. A microphone was set up in an alcove; a set of drums was also available, should anyone have wanted to bang away. And there were decorations: some white plastic trash bags blown up, tied off and pinned above the stage, with ghost faces drawn in felt marker, the remnants of a party earlier in the day.
Hallowe’en is just around the corner. Several municipal candidates were in the audience; ooh, scary.
I was sitting next to people who were eating cookies. They don’t want to talk, but they could not stop me from listening.
“The TV’s here.”
“I been on TV before.”
“Nothing but the best for PARC.”
“You won’t see this ever again; it’s a one-time thing.”
“You have to make it worth their while.”
“Mostly, they don’t come.”
“It took a lot of work to get them.”
“There’s a whole basket of apples.”
“They’re good apples.”
“Big speech coming up.”
The first big speech was not the one we were expecting; the candidates were running late, and so a woman in the crowd seized the moment.
I’ve heard this woman speak before; her topics are corruption, gender inequality, post-colonialism and our political system, which she says is a chauvinist system that comes from jerks.
People tell her to shut up. She will not. People ask her to leave. She will not. No one here wants to take her by the arm and haul her off; eventually she runs out of steam.
Still no candidates.
And so the moderator for the evening took the mic and started talking: the issues in this part of town are child care, housing, jobs and food security.
She also explained that there are certainly many bigger spaces in the neighbourhood for such a meeting, but PARC is not a place where politicians usually come.
And then an organizer — he was also helping fill the time — suggested that the people in the audience should use the evening to gather information. A gravelly voice in the crowd said, “Come to me, I’ll give you information.”
“Ha, ha,” we replied.
A guy named Double Dee stood and said, to general approval, “What are they going to do about our housing problems?” I was with him in his concern until he said, “Without the Father, nothing works.”
In my experience, not much works with him, either.
And then someone noted that politicians make all kinds of promises. “They articulate themselves very good. They promise us jobs. Nothing happens.”
I asked the fellow next to me who he planned to vote for. He said, “Ford.” I pointed out that Ford was not coming, and also that he had voted with his brother to cut services and raise fees for many of the programmes my seatmate uses.
“Oh. I didn’t know.”
And then there was a sudden hush, and a crackle in the air. Olivia Chow entered on her aura; she seemed to float in air. “Hello, everybody. What a big turnout. It’s wonderful, seeing old friends.” That’s more than just a line in this room and on this night; the people in the room need to know they have friends.
Chow said, “Kids are going to bed hungry.” Astute, because it isn’t just kids. “We need to change that.” It doesn’t sound hollow. “Yes, we can do it.”
She spoke of housing, which many in this room do not have; and transit, which many in this room cannot afford; she talked of the problems with rental housing and child care.
She also spoke of Edmond Place.
Edmond Place is right next door to PARC. It is an affordable housing residence for people who need help. It used to be a private rooming house when it burned down years ago; the city eventually seized the empty shell, and PARC led its transformation.
It is, of course, named for Edmond Yu, an occasional visitor to PARC who was on a bus with a hammer in his hand when he was shot to death by the police.
Chow talked about the need to train police in dealing with those who have mental health issues and says she will, as mayor, take a seat on the police services board.
The first, and maybe the most important question put to her was about the abuse people suffer at the hands of the mental health profession.
Impossible to answer?
She stunned the crowd by talking of her father, who had been a school superintendent in Hong Kong but could not find similar work here; he drove a cab, and then he delivered Chinese food, and then he had a breakdown.
“He was never able to work because of his illness. I didn’t know where to find support, I didn’t know about medication — that shaped my values.”
And were there an election at that moment, she would have had every vote in the room.
Coming up: Tory and Goldkind.
Article taken from theStar.com