Toronto’s turbulent midterms: Prostitution and politicians

Toronto’s Thursday night election results brought a messy, albeit surprising, result to one of the city’s hottest issues: local drug and prostitution laws. John Tory, the incumbent mayor and longtime Tory backer, lost a close election for a second term over the question of whether to legalize the rooming house, a common way for marginalized people to make a home. John Tory gained the third of the 10 seats necessary to win a second term, but his narrow lead over the five candidates who ran for the social housing slot has to be considered a blemish on his otherwise impressive record as mayor. The victory was secured by a progressive slate of candidates who swept the popular vote, according to preliminary returns. Out of the five candidates who made the final race, four pushed for changes to the social housing policies of the city government. This slate was known as the Toronto Renters Party.

The first such candidates were, fittingly, the very first to step up and throw their hat in the ring. In the early hours of Thursday morning, representatives of a wide variety of local tenants associations gathered at a coffee shop in the Sherbourne-Franklin area to gather what information they could from their peers about the recent election. Dozens of neighborhood residents were in attendance, many on hand to learn the latest election results. A real estate agent elected to the Toronto Renters Party claimed that the next big change to the city’s past policy, should he be elected, would be to legalize rooming houses.

“Our message is that we are for rent control, yes, but we’re also for no discrimination against tenants who are residents of different social backgrounds,” said Joe Kennedy. “The politicians, they never pay attention to renters in our community.”

“We’re the only party that is saying no discrimination in Toronto,” continued Kennedy. “[Our party] is for renters, black, white, different levels of education. We want to make all communities feel a little better. We’re an all-inclusive party.”

For Teresa Gilgun, who has lived on the streets for several years, having to ask other people to buy her a place to live took a lot of the sting out of her near-final defeat of Tory. “The homeless are wonderful people. We’re not like those sex workers who feel they need to strip down, grab some sex toys and do what they need to do to get the money,” said Gilgun. “Those are people who are born dirty, and they have to degrade themselves in order to survive, but you don’t see them stripping down and running around to get food or whatever.”

“Our poorest people are afraid to get them a place to live because they think it’s going to attract sex workers and they’re going to be the next ones to be run over, and then the marginalized people are going to get the worst of the deal,” continued Gilgun. “The homeless people do not deserve this. They are the most desperate people. Our poor people do not deserve to be on the street.”

Christopher Baik, a member of another union that seeks to represent the city’s emerging homeless community, carried petitions for a dozen different candidates into Thursday night’s election. Baik’s fellow Alliance of Urban Contractors members joined forces in 2004 to oppose Tory, who was then in his first term. During that election, Baik remembers the mayor talking about the potential impacts of bringing legalized rooming houses into the city.

“In October of 2005, the city of Toronto was around 11,000,” said Baik. “That number grew to over 80,000 at the time and now it’s about 100,000, and it’s going to be close to 200,000 by 2020. To me, that is a massive increase. That increase brings with it a whole host of problems. Some of those problems will have to be addressed and some of those problems have already been addressed.”

Read the full story at The Toronto Star.


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