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Village residents urged to get political

Activist Dave Meslin talks voting reform at neighbourhood association meeting

Activist Dave Meslin speaks to the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association. Credit: Andrea Houston

Dave Meslin, a community activist and one of the founders of the Toronto Public Space Committee, was the guest speaker at the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association annual general meeting Jan 22.

Meslin, who is probably best known for his popular TED Talk, spoke about one of his favourite topics: civic engagement.
 
More than 100 people attended the meeting. “But really, with 20,000 people in this area, there should be way more people engaged,” Meslin said. 
 
“The best resource we have in this city is the people. But there are perpetual barriers that keep people disengaged.”

 

Meslin’s group Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT) has spearheaded the push for ranked ballots as a way to modernize Toronto’s elections. It is a non-partisan idea that is supported by about 25 city councillors. “It’s not a politicized idea. It’s just an idea to make democracy better.”
 
Under Toronto’s first-past-the-post system, voters are often told to vote “strategically.” A candidate can “win” an election with just 20 percent support, depending on how many candidates split the votes of his or her opponent. “This system’s depriving us of choice,” Meslin says. “It’s the most toxic thing.”
 
Local activist and former Pride Toronto board member Roy Mitchell has announced that he will take a run at the city’s top job, but commenters on xtra.ca have criticized Mitchell, claiming he will split the vote and ensure Rob Ford wins again.
 
“Our current system punishes the most engaged [city] wards,” Meslin says. “So if there’s a woman, an LGBT person or a person of colour, they are told not to run, because they split the vote.”
 
Meslin’s recent exhibit, Fourth Wall, which was on display in the city hall rotunda last year, highlights simple and creative ways to make city hall more accessible, get citizens engaged and encourage wider participation on election day. “Politics isn’t a spectator sport. It’s not something people are supposed to just consume,” Meslin says. 
 
Meslin explains Fourth Wall: 

 

Meanwhile, Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam told the neighbourhood association that big changes are coming to the Village.
 
She says the BIA is working on plans for a partial summer street closure to create pedestrian-friendly parkettes in place of parking spots — similar to last summer’s Celebrate Yonge street closure.

Wong-Tam says a new initiative in Chicago could be a model for Church Street.

Wong-Tam is also planning a large-scale public art project and a redesign of the corner of Church and Alexander streets that is home to the Alexander Wood statue.
 
Cawthra Park will also soon get a makeover, but a plan has yet to be finalized, Wong-Tam says, noting she expects city staff to release a final plan to the public “soon.”
 
“Do we have a hard deadline for all this? You bet. June 2014 is only 18 months away. WorldPride is coming,” she says.
 
Wong-Tam also issued a warning, urging the community to have a strong, active voice to resist gentrification. “There is a lot of development happening [in Ward 27]. There are about 60 towers coming. That brings change.”
 
Meanwhile, in his update to the neighbourhood association, Pride Toronto executive director Kevin Beaulieu said the WorldPride committee is working to get the city’s cultural institutions, like the AGO and the ROM, involved in planning for 2014.

Beaulieu says the planning committee recently hosted a brainstorming meeting with a number of Toronto BIAs to look for ways the business community can get involved, partner or invest in WorldPride.
While the details need to be worked out, he said, some WorldPride events are finalized, including the opening ceremony, a closing ceremony and a human rights conference. “We may have a parade of nations with Prides from all over the world marching that year,” he said. “WorldPride is an important opportunity for a global dialogue.”
 
Beaulieu said it will be up to Toronto to define WorldPride. “We have built a community together over the last 40 years. We have a lot to celebrate. But what is WorldPride?”
 
From now until 2014, Beaulieu said, PT members will be doing a lot of travelling, getting people around the world excited about WorldPride. “Throughout this year we will be at Pride festivals all over the world, having a presence in their parades and promoting Toronto.”

The next WorldPride community meeting is on Feb 6 at 6pm at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.