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Black Futures Month: First-time political candidate pushes policy change to benefit the city’s youth
Renee Jagdeo made headlines when she ran in the Scarborough-Agincourt by-election earlier this year. The 19-year-old was the youngest person in the race of over 25 candidates. Her platform included improving green and recreational spaces, free Presto cards, supporting businesses, workers and renters during COVID-19 and developing accessible and affordable housing. She didn’t win, but the University of Toronto urban planning student isn’t deterred from pushing for policy changes that reflect the needs of young Torontonians. She knows the future is theirs to inherit and she wants to make it more equitable.
“Growing up, I blindly took the city at face value. Now, I depend on the city in different ways. For example, yes, we have a subway system but it’s ineffective and not necessarily reliable. Prices have continued to rise, a pass that was less than $100 when I was in high school is now almost $130. As a student, I don’t have a regular, steady income to afford transit. There’s an imbalance between the fact that I have a right to an education but I’m not able to afford to get there.
My studies have changed my understanding of the city as well, in learning about the histories that explain why we are here. You can look below the surface and discuss things like, “Why were transit lines placed here, as opposed to here? How does that impact the housing market? How does that impact the types of businesses that are around here?”
It’s a question of identifying the root causes and trying to see how I can play a role in reacting to the new realities that these systems have to work in.
I want to be involved in city politics, regardless of where my life takes me. However, I’m not necessarily considering running again in two years. Through school I have been more focused on the back-end of policy creation, as opposed to being a politician who is presenting them. I’m interested in looking at how I can be personally involved in research and making connections to justify policy.
Throughout the campaign process I had to come to terms with the fact that there are a lot of people that really don’t want to see youth succeed. I got feedback telling me to join the youth cabinet instead of becoming part of city council. That isolates my voice to just my peers – it only serves a purpose if I’m among people that aren’t like me. It’s not like city council is going to the youth cabinet to ask for help.
Claiming spaces that we’re not supposed to be in is important. I saw this opportunity as a way to put myself somewhere I’m not supposed to be and try and justify my presence there. After the race, I held an open Zoom call with youth that were interested in the political process and a lot of people turned out and some people were specifically thinking of running within the next two years.
According to the 2016 census, people under 25 make up almost a third of the city’s population. During the campaign, I realized I was representing a group of people that haven’t necessarily been represented. Outside of the uplifting spirit amongst my peers, I realized there are 40-year-olds that look down on me because I don’t have seniority. But their seniority doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve always done good things. I might be starting out, but I know that I’m doing good things.
I see two futures for Toronto. The negative one will happen if we continue going down this line of being seduced by capitalism and only supporting the one per cent. Gentrification will be rampant, we’ll lose all sense of culture and community in the city because we have let older generations take control for far too long. It’s currently unfeasible to live in the city, it’s hard to start a family and I don’t want to continue subjecting myself to this.
Many things could be alleviated with the implementation of a universal basic income, and the pandemic has shown us that this is no longer a fantasy. We are getting insight into what the government can actually do if they are put in a tricky situation.
When only 10 per cent of a building has affordable condos and the rest is market price, that’s not affordable housing. We need entire buildings dedicated to it. The vacant home tax, which the city has already discussed, could be used to discourage people from collecting all these empty properties while there are people that don’t have homes. There is definitely an issue with landlords raising rents and either a culture shift needs to take place or a literal government intervention.
Are we investing and developing for communities? Or are we doing it for malicious private interests?
We can start to consider the fact that marginalization exists, that there are rampant injustices, that we can develop a city where people are able to access the services and businesses they need. There’s a positive future where we emphasize the importance of community and start building.”
Paul Taylor, executive director of FoodShare Toronto
Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, artistic director of Obsidian Theatre
Rodney Diverlus, co-founder Black Lives Matter Canada and director of Wildseed Centre
Cheyenne Sundance, urban farmer and founder of Sundance Harvest