I find it insulting for Toronto Mayor John Tory to casually toss around the fact that more than half of Scarborough is foreign-born, and point the finger at his critics for not understanding how the transit experience impacts these immigrants.
Fact is, he doesn’t really understand either.
Tory has come under fire for his “immigrant talk” relating to the proposed one-stop subway expansion to Scarborough.
My mom is one of those foreign-born folks Tory was referring to, and she’s been relying on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) to get her to and from work (as well as everywhere else) for more than 30 years.
“But many of the subway’s loudest critics do not live or work in Scarborough, where more than half the population is born outside of Canada,” wrote Tory in a Toronto Star op-ed on Monday. “When they say this is too much to spend on a subway, the inference seems to be that it’s too much to spend on this part of the city.”
These two lines set social media ablaze. City councillor Josh Matlow, one of the subway’s most vocal critics, even said Tory “crossed an ethical line” with his implication that the naysayers somehow didn’t care about providing transit solutions for the area.
Tory’s right – many of the critics of the Scarborough subway don’t live or work in the area. The irony, though, neither do many of its champions, the mayor included.
A different universe
Let’s face it. Tory can take all the photo ops he wants on riding the subway. He can speak of critics not wanting to spend money in our part of town. He can hold town hall meetings with the public.
But, he is doing little to convince me he actually understands. And how could he?
He’s able to walk from the doorstep of his downtown condo to a subway station, ride the train a few stops, stop at the cafeteria to pick up breakfast and be in his office within 20 minutes.
That is a luxury many Scarborough folks will never have, especially since the new one-stop, $3-billion subway plan adds no new stations to the area. It’s merely a long-overdue replacement for the rapid transit (RT).
My mom arrives at her downtown job about 15 minutes after the mayor each day, 6:45 a.m. The difference is, she wakes up every day at 4 a.m., in order to make the one-and-a-half-hour commute to work downtown. And she, like many others, has been doing that for decades.
[My mom] wakes up every day at 4 a.m., in order to make the one-and-a-half-hour commute to work downtown.
Timing is everything
The thing is, it’s no secret that Scarborough is heavily populated by immigrants, as well as the children and grandchildren of immigrants. Like me.
Growing up in the late 80’s, early 90’s, my classes were always filled with children whose parents hailed from all over the world – the Philippines, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, China, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
So why did Tory feel the need to point out something that’s always been common knowledge – at least to those of us he is talking about: you know, the ones who actually live in Scarborough, and ride the transit here.
Well, from Donald Trump to Brexit, anti-immigration sentiment in the West continues to be a hot-button issue. By subtly hinting that critics of the Scarborough subway may be “anti-immigrant” Tory appears to be riding the coattails of this wave.
He’s shifted the conversation from whether or not this proposed plan will actually do anything of value for the residents, to who cares more about immigrants living in Scarborough.
Distracting from the deeper issues
While Tory’s office issued a statement saying that his op-ed has been misunderstood and was not meant to be divisive, divisive is certainly what it sounds like to me.
Beyond that, it sounds like immigrants are being used as pawns in a political chess game.
[I]t sounds like immigrants are being used as pawns in a political chess game.
He’s said that the one-stop subway extension, expected to serve 1,700 residents living in “neighbourhood improvement areas” (areas identified as falling below the city’s neighbourhood equity score, that often have large newcomer populations), is the way to go.
This is despite predictions that the previously proposed Eglinton East light rapid transit (LRT) solution to Scarborough would service close to 26,000 with up to 17 stops.
He, and other supporters, have also said that it will bring jobs to the area, emphasizing the need for more jobs in “low-income”, “disadvantaged” neighbourhood improvement areas.
What’s the guarantee, though, that those jobs will go to Scarborough folks? That at the time of hiring, things like their lack of Canadian experience, their “foreign-sounding name” or their understanding of soft skills won’t leave them jobless, while people from outside the area fill the positions.
Unless the mayor’s willing to offer guarantees, it’s best he and the others at City Hall forget about trying to pretend that they really care about newcomers.
Priya Ramanujam has lived in Scarborough all her life, and has been riding the TTC almost as long. She is production editor for New Canadian Media.