Grassroots democracy forum in Scarborough

Paul Bocking (Originally Published in June 2013 Issue of Bluffs Advocate)

The council chambers of the Scarborough Civic Centre was the site of political engagement from the bottom-up at the Scarborough Democracy Forum organized May 9th by the Scarborough Civic Action Network.  Around a hundred local activists attended panel discussions featuring members of long established resident’s associations including the Midland Park Community Association, located between Midland and Brimley, north of Lawrence, and the Heathwood Ratepayers Association, located between Birchmount and Kennedy, south of Steeles.  Emerging grassroots issue-focused groups including Scarborough Transit Action and Respect Scarborough also spoke about their work.

“The large turnout and the enthusiasm of the people attending indicates that there is a strong desire and need to enhance democratic participation at the local community level, in Scarborough.” said Paul Rook, a retired Scarborough high school civics teacher and MC for the event.

Public space and local democracy activist Dave Meslin addressed the forum, emphasizing the need for effective civics education for Toronto’s youth.  “The level of government which most impacts on our daily lives is City Hall.  But we’re not teaching our kids enough about how it works, so how are they going to participate when they grow up?”  Meslin also promoted the Ranked Ballot Initiative (RaBiT), that would allow Toronto residents to rank their choices for mayor rather than just vote for their first choice.  Receiving support from a majority of councillors, city council will debate in June on whether to take the first steps towards this electoral system.

Meslin also presented the “Fourth Wall,” an illustrated exhibit of policy ideas intended to strengthen local democracy, ranging from holding municipal elections on weekends to increase voter turnout, to promoting public awareness and understanding of the city budget process and returning to three year electoral cycles.

Scarborough resident Israt Ahmed was optimistic that the event reflected growing grassroots activism east of Victoria Park, “The success of the forum reflects the rise of local level leadership that will challenge power brokers who are far removed from the public good.”