Colour of Poverty Releases Racial Justice Report Card

The Toronto Mayoral Candidates Racial Justice Report Card was released earlier this month and is compiled of one-on-one interviews with each of the candidates, as well as a thorough review of policy and platform positions and assorted media coverage of the campaign up to late September.

Smitherman received the highest grade with a B+, while candidate Joe Pantalone came a close second with a B grade. Rocco Rossi received an average C+, and frontrunner Rob Ford got a big F. (Sarah Thompson, who dropped out of the race recently, would have received a B.) The COC/P met with the top mayoral candidates, except Rob Ford, who failed to respond to their request.

“He was agnostic at best and indifferent for the most part,” said Michael Kerr, a coordinator with COC/P. “Mr. Ford was well-deserving of the F that we gave him.”

The COC/P’s steering committee was comprised of two individuals, professor Grace-Edward Galabuzi from Ryerson University, and Uzma Shakir, an economic justice fellow at the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, as well as 11 community organizations, including the Canadian Arab Federation, the African-Canadian Legal Clinic, and the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.

The grading was based on how closely the candidate’s positions aligned with the group’s priorities, which include support for affordable housing, extending voting rights to non-citizens, support for employment equity programs, investments in public transit, and improved access to community services and recreational opportunities. A letter grade was assigned on the substance of their answers. The report, however, does not endorse any particular candidate.

Kerr said he was surprised at some of the candidate’s positions on issues relating to some of the group’s priorities. He was particularly surprised by Rossi’s refusal to extend the municipal franchise to non-citizens because of his parent’s status as newcomers.

Joe Pantalone, considered the most progressive of the four candidates, did not support all of the group’s positions either. “Mr. Pantalone had similar reluctance to move forward in any shape or form on the collection of disaggregated data or formula on groups that have been disadvantaged,” Kerr remarked. “That is fundamental for change to happen. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get fixed.”

Ford, the only candidate that refused to meet with the group, has come under fire for comments made toward communities of colour in the past, including this infamous remark on people of Asian descent. “Those Oriental people work like dogs. … They’re slowly taking over.”

His platform also reveals little support for the priorities listed by the COC/P. While it does include support for improving municipal services like the TTC and controlling government spending, it says nothing about extending the municipal vote to non-citizens, nor does he list any support for the collection and analysis of disaggregated data.

Smitherman’s website, however, suggests an acknowledgement of the importance of Toronto’s diverse population. Included is a section called “George Smitherman’s Toronto: jobs and opportunities for all,” which breaks down the economic cost to Toronto if it ignores the city’s diversity, and includes plans to help minority-owned businesses at city hall.

“We need to live by Toronto’s motto — Diversity, Our Strength — and make it real for everyone in this city, regardless of their colour, origin, religion or physical ability,” Smitherman says on his site.

His platform does include specifics on how he would help boost opportunities for minorities, including having all city departments keep track of and report on their relations with “under-represented suppliers,” putting forward a “Diversity Impact statement” in all matters before City Hall, and tying senior staff compensation to improvement in boosting supplier diversity.

“Of all the candidates, Mr. Smitherman has the most concrete plan for equitable job creation for disadvantaged groups,” says the COC/P report card. “With one proviso: there is a concern that his recently announced attrition plan may stall the equity initiatives.”

Kerr says he hopes the next mayor is willing to use the tools and resources necessary to be an outspoken advocate on racial and social justice issues, and “understands and appreciates the diversity of our communities and how rich those communities are.

“The mayor has to be the champion of this agenda to make it real.”

Listen to the news report about the report card on CBC Radio Canada.