Of those ninety people, there are several Black politicians, including Ontario Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders, policy analyst Chloe Brown, former city councillor Rob Davis, former Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes and lawyers Rocco Achampong and Knia Singh.
In this awkward election cycle, we get to see a host of Black people run for mayor, but that group is so diverse in terms of political outlook and policy prescription—from firebrands like Chloe and Mitzie to well-known politicians like Celina and Rob. And so far, Mark Saunders is leading the pack with 11% of votes according to the latest polls.
This still puts him behind Ana Bilbao and Olivia Chow. Next is Mitzie Hunter with 5%. While it seems like the Black candidates are barely making a dent in the polls, a third of Torontonians are still undecided, so this is anyone's race and Toronto could see its first Black mayor. While this would be a historic milestone, I have never been the type to simply aim for Black faces in high places. What is important is that candidates support policies that improve the Black community.
It was surprisingly hard to reach certain candidates. Many did not have a website or email I could easily access, and most didn't reply at all. One of the first to respond to my interview request was Celina Caessar-Chavannes, a former Liberal MP, author and consultant around DEI, mental health and business. I also spoke with Chloe Brown, the third-place candidate in the last mayoral race and a policy analyst with the city. While both women focus on helping everyday folks live and thrive in the city, they have two almost opposing ways of doing it. Celina is a politician who has the knowledge and strategy to work with the political machine, while Chloe is a technocrat who plans to change the system altogether. It is not for me to decide which way is better, but let's hopefully open up the debate amongst the Black community on the best way forward.
Celina For Mayor
Meeting through Zoom, you lose the power of someone's presence a lot of the time. Still, with Celina, the minute she appeared on video and started to speak you could feel the confidence and assuredness in her— a very mayoral quality. You need that confidence to do what she does and succeed where she has succeeded.
A former Liberal MP from Whitby, Celina, against her ambitions, left the party after she called out Justin Trudeau for his dismissive behaviour. She resigned before the 2019 election after feeling ‘tokenized, excluded and undervalued.’ In her time with the Liberals, Celina acted as Parliamentary Secretary for International Development while also advocating for mental health support, social justice and data-driven decision-making. No matter what she works on, Celina focuses on creating a more loving city.
“This campaign is a love letter to Toronto. I love Toronto. Toronto, for me, is that dream, that Canadian dream. When my parents landed here, it was a realization that they could make their lives, and their children’s lives better. So when we talk about policy, we can put love in there. We cannot have safe streets if we fear each other. Love is the foundation of every single part of this campaign.”
If she is willing to stare down the Prime Minister and say “no,” then Celina will clearly fight for the city.
As an MBA graduate, Celina knows how to manage numbers, and the city needs someone who can.
“97% of our city revenues come from taxes, but there should be another way to fund social services and transit. I want to work with other mayors and the federal government to allocate 1% of the GST to cities.”
Not only would that one percent be allocated only to social services, but it would grow as the economy did. Throughout our discussion, Celina hammered in on being a data-driven and collaborative mayor. By using all the information, she wants to use whatever funds the city has efficiently.
“First thing I want to do is maintain our current services. Look at the SafeTO report, TTC partnership with LOFT, and the Ombudsman report of encampments; they are all steeped in social justice and human rights. Why do we need police with body cameras on the TTC when there is no evidence it works?”
She is not wrong. A recent report has called for a bigger role for human rights in decision-making. Wouldn't it be nice to have a mayor that actually does care about social justice? Celina has the focus, guile and networking to make things happen.
Chloe For Mayor
A policy analyst and fellow millennial, Chloe is perhaps one of the smartest people I have met regarding how to run a city. She knows the inner workings of budgets and can tell you how specific consultants work inside city hall. But what really stands out is her authenticity. Everything she said felt like she believed it 100%, with no hemming or hawing. She is not your average politician.
“Despite running a political race, I'm not really into politics. And it gets exhausting trying to manage expectations outside the desperation that's currently amassing throughout the city.”
She is right. The city has become more desperate. These days you can see giant lineups at food banks, brazen robberies in daylight and people begging for money on every street corner. Chloe spoke on all these issues and more than just policy change; she spoke on a change in governance.
“I ran against Michael Ford because Rob Ford had just passed, and everyone said his nephew will get this. And I couldn't accept that. But because it's his nephew, he gets a seat on the council determining the lives of my students and people like myself. And that's when I threw my hat in the ring for the first time to be a candidate. Because it was more important to me that someone says there's no room for monarchies in a democracy than it is to walk away with the win.”
So how does she plan to change the structure of politics in this city? She wants to give power to commissioners and take them away from consultants. One of the biggest takeaways from talking with Chloe is how massive the consulting business is in Toronto. Most anything has the help of outside consultants, which uses resources and privatizes policymaking. As mayor, she would have councils with residents and policymakers instead of external consultants. It is a policy I am sure will ruffle some feathers, but that's how you know you are pushing the right buttons. Very candidly, Chloe is willing to call out bad actors, even if some of them would be voters. I have written on the need for better housing in the city, so when I asked her about the housing issues, she held nothing back, going after anti-housing NIMBYs (‘Not In My Backyard’) and the needs of the rich few.
“The convenience of quiet is that you have fewer neighbours. Fewer neighbours mean less access to services. Businesses are watching the hauling out of the city because a few people want to keep neighbourhood character instead of understanding that people, not the building provide the character that happens in your neighbourhood. So, it's me critically interrogating good people because how good are you? If you don't want to build housing for people with disabilities, how good are you? If you don't want childcare services in your neighbourhood, even if you're not a grandparent, what have children done to you to deny them access to the same space that was granted to you in your childhood?”
Strong words I can't help but agree with. I am weary of any politician who says they want affordable housing but don't want to build housing in wealthier and often whiter neighbourhoods that have less density. You can't have your cake and eat it, too; Chloe Brown knows this. From housing to food, Chloe has a plan for that too. She wants to bring more greenhouses and urban gardens to feed the city. There is also so much more; you can read her platform on her website.
If the election were simply on who has the best plans, Chloe would be a runaway favourite. And if it were on the depth of networks and confidence, then Celina would lead. Yet neither of the women was invited to participate in a recent mayoral debate hosted by the Daily Bread Food Bank. Only the top six candidates in the public opinion polls are invited to debates.
But this election is about so much. It's a test for Toronto to move on from being a mid-sized city into a world-class metropolis. Whoever wins has to govern a municipality that will either deteriorate into a neoliberal mess or grow into an urban oasis. In such a fractured and undecided race, every vote counts.
The Toronto mayoral by-election is on June 26, 2023.