Residents hear and are heard at Jamestown gathering

Community barbecue also a ‘town hall’ session.

By Jeff Hayward,
Published July 26, 2010

There was more than just food at a Jamestown community barbecue on Saturday, July 24, said an organizer.

The five-hour event at the Elmbank Community Centre grounds was offered by Community Organizing for Responsible Development (CORD) in cooperation with Good Jobs for All Coalition and Social Planning Toronto, and also featured entertainment for children.

But the community took the opportunity to hear and be heard, said Nigel Barriffe, spokesman.

The purpose of the “civic engagement” gathering was to give locals an opportunity to become more informed about public services in their community and the city at large, as well as learn about the upcoming municipal election, he said.

Members of publicly-owned institutions including Kipling Acres and Toronto Hydro appeared on their own time to share information, said Barriffe.

“They all live in our neighbourhood,” he said of the public servants. “(They) just shared their feelings and the importance around working for a public service.”

They didn’t appear on behalf of their respective organizations, he said. “(They shared) ‘this is what I do, this is why it is really important for you or to the community, this is why it is important why it should remain public.'”

The talk also touched on the Oct. 25 municipal election, with Barriffe noting voter turnout in the neighbourhood was only 30 per cent during the previous city election in 2006.

“We had an opportunity to share with people concretely, ‘how does an election work, what does a trustee do, what does a councillor do?’,” he said. “It’s one of your responsibilities as a Canadian citizen to vote.”

Mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone was in the audience to listen, he added.

Residents also shared concerns about the need for infrastructure relating to what he called the “mega-project at Woodbine racetrack” and the need for quality employment, said Barriffe, an elementary school teacher and member of Good Jobs for All Coalition.

One of the community speakers was an 18-year-old girl — “she was quite emotional” about her trouble finding a “decent” job in Rexdale, he said.

Barriffe sympathized with the job situation in the area.

“As a school teacher I see it all the time, people work three to four jobs … you’re always hustling to put food on the table.”

About 200 residents attended, along with several organizers and group representatives, he said. “We were all pleased by the turnout,” Barriffe said.

“A lot of people think you can’t organize in Rexdale because people feel disenfranchised, or not interested, or just too plain busy. That wasn’t the case here … all of these residents, people who live in our neighbourhood, came out and shared this information.”

Barriffe said similar events are being eyed for Scarborough and the Jane/Finch neighbourhood.