Dewitt Lee is a mayoral candidate in Toronto's municipal election on October 27. He answered these questions from our editorial team.
1. What difference would you like to make by entering politics?
I want to remove the stigma that we don't belong. Although there are no signs like years ago during the days of segregation in the USA that says "no coloured people allowed" the fact still remains that by not being present it sends a message that we are not capable or caring enough to be involved. The second and most pressing impact I would like to make is to be the first elected Black mayor of Toronto. I want to figure out the formula of how to win so that I can create more opportunities for those of Afro/Caribbean descent to run and win themselves.
2. How do you feel this impact would affect the Black community specifically?
There is a soaring level of optimism that is happening all across this area not just because of my involvement but our involvement. In Durham region we are rising up and here in Toronto. There are so many passionate and capable candidates of Afro/Caribbean descent on the ballot that we are collectively raising awareness of issues in our communities. Most importantly we are shifting the general attitude towards servitude, which will have a lasting impact on the people we engage everyday beyond the campaign.
3. Have you worked with members of the Black community prior to running for office and in what capacity?
(a) How do you think your background will help you in your job as an elected representative?
I have made it my absolute priority to work alongside many Black community organizations such as Harriet Tubman Community Organization. I am currently on their board of directors as a co-vice chair. I've been hands on in the Jane and Finch community by helping the Caribana Arts Group conduct a very successful and thriving parade and cultural experience for the last few years. I have also worked just with the residents of these communities to organize basketball tournaments and prayer vigils when the most unfortunate things happen right in front of their homes. During these most trying times I feel is my most important work because it’s the time they feel the most forgotten and frustrated.
This work has provided me with real life experiences on what it means to be Black in Canada as a whole. I of course have my own experiences to lean on but when you get a ground level understanding of the community as a whole, it changes you. This is why it’s so important that we vote and finally build the political base we are striving for in this election. Then and only then will be able to address our issues head on with resources and leadership that will get results.
4. What issues are you most passionate about, and why?
Housing: I've experienced being homeless in Toronto. I know what it feels like to not have a place to call home, to go through shelters and to be frustrated by lack of opportunities.
Entrepreneurship: It is what helped me return to respectability and accountability as a father of 3. It has also allowed me to create opportunities to work for youth and those coming out of jail. We need to provide more access to robust funding available in this city to all citizens and in turn ensure that every promise for opportunity is delivered.
Accountability: I feel that politicians have gone far too long without a real checks and balance system from citizens. Through our organization, the Toronto Community Advisory Board we will return the power back into the hands of the people. Our ideas and inspiration for change will impact City Hall through our elected officials. They will no longer get to represent their own biases and personal convictions and make decisions based on them. They will act out the will of the working class and adhere to our demands.
Ageism: I want to create a city that supports our seniors and encourages our youth to dream. We have far too long ignored the needs of these very important segments of our community and we need to create bridges and not barriers to provide every service and opportunity to anyone regardless of age.
Equality: I believe this is somewhat connected to ageism, but it goes deeper into the lack of diversity and the sensitivity our city employees have towards our diverse community. We need a real plan to ensure that equality flourishes and that goes for every department inside City Hall's walls. Our police department comes to mind when I think about how our youth and the general populous of Afro/Caribbean are treated here in Toronto and I'm disappointed and greatly troubled. We have to ensure that everyone is treated equally from the moment of arrest to their court sentencing. The system has far too long been against the poor and the underrepresented and I want to make it our mandate to fight on their behalf.
Growth: My campaign message is Rise Up and Build (which comes from Nehemiah 2:18) and that includes every ward. We have parts of our city that have been neglected far too long and it’s high time we ensure that every citizen of Toronto feels like they live in a world class city. Transit in parts of our city is an embarrassment and the people seem to be numb to the neglect. I want to make sure that the most successful programs around the city are available in every part of the city and to extend our tourism industry beyond our downtown core.
5. As a Black candidate, do you feel any responsibility to focus your efforts on issues affecting the Black community? If yes, what do you feel the most pressing issues are?
It’s my job to identify all the areas of Toronto and I consider every community my responsibility. Speaking specificically as a whole we need to help rise up and build up the Afro/Caribbean communities if we want Toronto to truly excel. Of course because I am from the people and I know the issues we face so there is a tremendous amount of responsibility I feel to serve them. I believe that should go for all Afro/Caribbean elected officials, to bring real change to those communities.
We need to address the lack of opportunities and businesses in our neighbourhoods. I think we need to make special arrangements to ensure that private businesses are setting up operations in hard hit communities so that an environment of activity is created. When all you see is check cashing, pay day loans and dollar stores who lose a sense of value of your community and when you compare it to other areas of the city that you see during your travels, it sets a mind frame that their community is inferior.
We need more accountability to the programs that serve our people. So many programs are available and receive funding but may be under achieving in regards to outreach and service and I believe there is room to improve. I feel we need a faith based coalition that will help us locate those in need and make sure that they have the resources to provide it.
We need to find ways to do business with the artists of our communities. We are extremely artistic and we need to provide income streams for them so that they can flourish and allow their creativity to lead to an environment of activity. I believe that my experience in entertainment especially in film, music and fashion is what the city needs to really help open up doors and opportunities for our Black community to rise up and really have an impact in our city.
6. What is the one thing you plan to achieve if you get elected?
Well when I'm elected the one thing I plan on leading is the charge to transform Toronto into the entertainment epicentre of the world. With such a diverse community here we can help create content that the world enjoys. I also want to brand Toronto with an I XO TO campaign much like I heart NY. We need to get into merchandising and have a real plan to create more revenue from our tourism industry.
7. What do you think is the deterrent to economic success in the Black community, and how do you to propose to address this in your riding?
Collaboration. We need to revisit the principals of Kwanzaa, like Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) so that we build up our business community and compete less and achieve more.
I believe we have to create a real Black business community and we can learn from many other cultures that have created for themselves thriving business districts that are well established and well received by everyone.
8. What current policies do you oppose of the current government and why?
There are plenty things I oppose regarding our current policies, some are city policies and others are different levels of government. So things that burden small business owners like garbage fees and the inability for permanent residents to vote. I think that Toronto is ready for real change but we must first really want it and fight for it.
9. Why, or should members of the Black community get involved with politics?
Because Canada needs us; our ideas, our energy and our love. We are a caring and devoted community and once we revitalize our level of civic engagement this city will finally reach its true potential. Politics is not complicated it just becomes so when greed and division occurs. There are many roles we can fulfill in this political system that are bare and empty waiting for us to add our presence. Our fore fathers and mothers who first came to Canada had the odds stacked against them to succeed and they knew that a day would come when we would be the decision makers and the leaders of this great country. They are waiting for us to realize their dreams and I plan on not letting them down. I believe our faith in God will be one of our biggest contributions to Toronto moving forward. The biggest Christian parade in Canada is headed by a woman of Afro/Caribbean descent and we have the leadership to really impact the direction of our great city. A praying and humble leadership that seeks Godly wisdom is what will help create a city that is compassionate and successful. The streets will be filled with hope, instead of despair and in the hearts of our citizens, goodwill and love will reside.
If Martin could have a dream, I'm entitled to one too right? Then that's mine and maybe it’s the responsibility of my sons or daughters to see it happen.
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