By Talia Leacock
The Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River councillor debate took place on October 14th at the Malvern Recreation Center. The seven candidates – Raymond Cho (incumbent), Namu Poonambalam, Shamoon Poonawala, Leon Saul, Neethan Shanmugarajah, George Singh and Ruth Tecle – engaged in an orderly and informative debate, based on questions raised by the citizens of the community. The room was full, and residents were out in force to find out about their candidates so that they could make an informed decision before they voted on October 25th.
Many of the candidates had a unique approach to the concerns raised. Ruth Tecle for example, the youngest candidate at age 22, explained that she felt that many of the issues faced by Ward 42 were caused by faults in urban and budgetary planning on the part of the city. She felt that her education in urban planning and municipal finance made here an excellent candidate because she would be able to advocate effectively on issues like transportation and employment at city hall.
George Singh and Leon Saul have similar ideas on many issues. Both propose to reach youth by giving them access to the things they find interesting. They also share the belief that the programs in the schools must be more engaging to young people in order to lower the drop-out rate. On the matter of affordable housing, these candidates also agree that the issue is not so much quantity as it is quality. In the case of employment, both candidates suggested a centralized system for job postings.
Namu Poonambalam proposed unique solutions to the concerns of the residents. To combat the employment issue, he suggested hiring of Malvern residents by the TTC for expansion work. He proposed to regulate the billing for all the affordable housing programs within the city. He also proposes that the city-run program, Food Share, needs to be reintroduced in order to make healthy food options available to the residents of Ward 42.
Unlike the mayoral debate, most candidates refrained from direct attacks on others; however, any negative comments made were directed towards Raymond Cho who has been councillor of the ward for the past 19 years. Cho who, during his terms has brought job fairs, farmers markets, breakfast clubs, affordable housing and extended TTC service to the ward, promised that he would continue to work for the benefit of his constituents if re-elected.
But he faced criticism from Shamoon Poonawala on his inability to bring together the other elected officials in the area. When Cho said that he would take care of the newly implemented fee for programs at the recreation centre for disadvantaged youth, Neethan Shanmugarajah and George Singh both argued that this would stigmatize those youth that were unable to afford the fee and nearly every other candidate agreed that the fee should be dropped altogether.
Ultimately, all the candidates had similar opinions on the issues that were most pressing. All agreed that unemployment must be reduced, if not eliminated; transportation needs to be improved; public services need to be implemented more effectively; the quality of affordable housing needs to be improved; access to healthy food options is a necessity; and youth must be engaged to be kept in school. The difference, and likely the deciding point for many voters is the plans the candidates are proposing to counter.
Residents of Ward 42 – that is, those living within the area between Steeles Avenue East to the north, Highway 401 and Sheppard Avenue East to the south, Markham Road and McCowan Road to the west and Pickering Town Line to the east – over the age of 18 may vote on October 25th in the polling station specified by the letter received in the mail. Polling stations can also be found online at http://app.toronto.ca/vote2010/findAddressForVotingPlace.do.
***Dr. Raymond Cho won the election with 53% of the vote.