Louroz Mercader leans back in his seat and roars out a hearty laugh as he recalls how he got turned on to local politics.
“[Mississauga Mayor] Hazel McCallion came to my school in Grade 8,” the Ward 7 candidate says. “Around that time the internet was new, and I registered the email email@example.com, which I still have today.”
“Futuremayor” is also Mercader’s current Skype handle. Let no one accuse him of lacking ambition.
The openly gay 31-year-old, who was born in Manila and raised in Cooksville, has certainly kept many pots on the boil. His resumé includes chairing the mayor’s youth advisory committee, serving as the executive director of the Mississauga Youth Games (which he also founded), leading CivicAction’s Private Sector Youth Jobs and Mentorship initiative, as well as sitting on the boards of GO Transit’s customer service advisory committee and the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Somewhere in there, he also squeezed in an unsuccessful bid for the Ward 7 Cooksville seat in the 2010 election. He came second, with 34 percent of the vote, despite the city’s notoriously uncompetitive and lopsided elections, and against an incumbent who’s now held his seat more than 25 years.
But this time Mercader thinks it will be different. For starters, with McCallion retiring, it’s the first election since 1978 to feature a competitive mayoral race, which Mercader says is generating new interest in change from Mississaugans.
“My team asked me to write a failure report on why the last campaign failed, and we came to the conclusion we have to work a lot harder, smarter and a lot longer,” he says. “I think the big piece is that we were outspent three to one. My opponent raised a lot of money through developers, and I relied on smaller donations from individuals.”
Toronto is the only municipality in Ontario where corporate and union political donations are banned, something Mercader says he’d like to see changed.
Mercader says he’s the right person to deliver change on issues residents care about. As a daily transit rider, he supports the city’s plan for an LRT line on Hurontario Street and wants to push GO to provide more frequent train service into Toronto.
He speaks with a particular pride about the ward he’s lived in since he was four. “It’s the most urban part of Mississauga, the most high density and most diverse as well. It has these mom-and-pop shops and ethnic restaurants. You won’t find any chains; there’s not even a Tim Hortons,” he says.
Part of Mercador’s vision for the city is to build up a business improvement area (BIA) for Cooksville and to encourage more entertainment options — bars, restaurants and even music halls and dance clubs in the city. It’s a development that’s already beginning, with the emergence of new condo neighbourhoods dominated by young professionals along the lakeshore.
“It comes down to leadership at city hall to cultivate and create bylaws to encourage that kind of development. I think we have an opportunity to do that in my ward: to create a vibrant urban centre that people want to go to.”
Mercador says the once-sleepy suburb is already a mature city that’s ready for an increased LGBT presence. He says a challenge for the city’s LGBT people is finding spaces to congregate and socialize.
“The big movement to create these GSAs [gay-straight alliances] in Catholic schools started in Mississauga, at St Joseph’s,” he says. “I’m extremely proud that young people have the courage to do that in places like Misssissauga.”
Still, he says, his sexuality has so far not been an issue in his campaign. “People are actually focusing on what I have to offer my community and the leadership and changes I can bring,” he says.