In Conversation with Kristyn Wong Tam – MPP Toronto Centre

By: Lawrence Rodriguez & Tyrone MacLean-Wilson

MPP for Toronto Centre discusses a broad range of urgent issues facing area residents.

(Lawrence and Tyrone are journalists with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre – a partner of The Corner)

In a wide-ranging interview, Member of Provincial Parliament of Ontario (MPP) for Toronto Centre representing the New Democratic Party, Kristyn Wong Tam sat down with Focus reporter, Allanis Inguillo, to discuss some of the key concerns that residents in the Downtown East neighbourhoods are facing.

Allanis: As the new MPP for Toronto Centre we would like to speak with you about some of the key issues that people in this neighbourhood are facing in the early part of 2023, and we were hoping to get your thoughts on some the most pressing issues currently grabbing the spotlight.

For example, the long-proposed Moss Park Revitalization was planned to begin, however with Metrolinx moving in with their own plans to develop the new subway station, what is the status of the revitalization?

Kristyn: That’s a great question and it’s one that I’m also very curious about as a present member of the Provincial Parliament but also as a former city councillor of the area. That project is a much needed and important capital project for the city, for our communities we’re talking about building a brand-new state-of-the-art recreation facility. The recreation centre for our community.

So, as I understand it, it’s going ahead. There is money in the 2023 budget that is also carried forward from the 2022 budget and the city staff have actually been doing consultations. Some of the work was disrupted because of the COVID pandemic but as it’s explained to me, they are going to go ahead and build it [the recreation centre] along with the full refurbishment of the Moss Park arena, as well as the rebuilding of Moss Park the Green Space. So, that’s good news for the community even if Metrolinx is coming along the south end of Moss Park. 

Allanis: Today we are in a time of economic turmoil where the prices of just about everything have risen, how do you see the recent announcement by the TTC to raise the regular fare by 10-cents?

Kristyn: I just don’t think people can bear that cost to be quite honest. Our community members that I am speaking to are already feeling the financial crunch. The housing cost has risen, their food cost is through the roof and now their fuel cost is through the roof.  Now there is one more thing for them to bear. You know it is one thing if the TTC service is getting better and they’re raising the fare, but they’re actually raising the fare and they are reducing service. So, there will be more crowding on buses, more crowding on street cars, more crowding on subway trains and less frequent service, so I really am struggling to understand how the mayor and city council could even possibly push this forward when people are asking for financial accountability.  I’m very passionate about this because the working people need to have access to public services including transit that is safe, reliable, connected and affordable. Unfortunately, the city is going the wrong way, fares should not be increasing while they are decreasing service.

This is where the provincial government has a role to play because the TTC is overwhelmed and we do not have enough operational subsidies, but we don’t have a provincial partner.  The Ford government has not adequately invested in the operating of the TTC. So yes, the Ford government likes to talk about shiny new subways, but when it comes to operations, the day-to-day maintenance of the fleet, making sure that the vehicles are safe, and the tracks are safe, they have not done that work. And that’s the work that you don’t get to cut a ribbon on, but that’s the work that is going to be felt by our riders day in and day out. The provincial government has to step in with proper operating subsidies because the TTC is the operating system in North America that has the least amount of provincial subsidies. So that also has to be corrected.

Allanis: The Toronto Police Service is proposing a $50 million increase, do you think this measure will be an effective solution to the rash of gun violence we are now seeing? And what would be a better alternative solution?

Kristyn: That is a great question and a question that we should be brave enough to answer directly. It’s not just $50 million for the police. By the time you add in the provincial operating dollars, which will be over $10 million, the police budget is going to go up by $61 million. So, the Toronto Police is getting a hefty bump in their budget and this is because of the mayor who led this conversation wants more community neighborhood officers. We all want more community-based policing. I think so. Not everybody, but it’s a good use of our investments because we get a great return. Officers that are embedded in the community doing community work building community trust, that is good.

What we are mindful of is that the police are already the largest line item on the city’s budget and as they continue to grow, as they continue to increase their budget, we are also seeing crime come down. So violent crime has been coming down statistically across most boards and so why is it that they are asking for or why is it they’re accepting an increase in their police budget?

What we need is to foster community safety which is, interesting enough, tied to the social determinants of health. So therefore, when people have access to adequate housing, access to adequate education opportunities and a life free of violence and all those other things that we know will lead people through a healthier life, they will reduce crime and it will improve people’s well-being and also increase our sense of safety and security. That’s what we should be investing that money in as opposed to more ammunition and more, you know, hi-tech technology that doesn’t necessarily reduce crime because crime has already fallen down. We’ve seen reports about what it would take for us to build safer communities, safer neighborhoods, and time and time again it’s always investments in youth and investing in high quality recreation and art and cultural programs for young people, as well making sure that there’s a mental health and adequate supports for families especially if they live with harm. Those are the things that will bring us more safety.

So, John Tory can place a police officer in every single corner of Toronto, should he choose to, he’s the mayor. He’s got super strong powers. He can do just about anything he wants since this is his budget. He could do that and it still will not keep our communities safe.

So, residents should get involved with the budget consultations, it’s so critically important to be heard. Residents have every right to talk about how the government is spending their money and the services that are produced and delivered by government agencies. They are government employees, let us not forget that they work for us.

Reprinted from Catch da Flava – Focus Media Arts Centre

Kristyn Wong Tam – MPP Toronto Centre

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