Readers' Choice 2020: Council’s only out member stays tied to her activist roots
Cheol Joon Baek
There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about Kristyn Wong-Tam.
She’s smart. She’s dedicated, She’s hardworking. And as the only out member of Toronto city council, she has fought effectively to turn an LGBTQ lens on a range of issues.
This past summer amid growing protests over the police custody death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the police budget and anti-Black racism were at the top of her to-do list. For that, she put herself in the firing line of criticism. It wasn’t easy.
But as a former businessperson she’s also a pretty tough political operator. That includes when it has come down to getting things done in her downtown Toronto Centre ward.
It’s one of the most diverse and challenging areas in the city with a range of social issues coming up against sky-high pressure from condo development. Wong-Tam has managed to stickhandle through it all and stay tied to her activist roots during a political career that has now spanned a decade. Time flies.
Wong-Tam has been front and centre throughout the pandemic, managing her usual hefty workload from home – see her daily email blasts – while still finding time in her schedule to turn her attention to hands-on work on the ground. That has included raising money for Yonge Street Mission, delivering food to food banks and handing out socks and water at homeless encampments.
“We’re just trying to respond to the crisis by doing whatever was necessary,” she says in an interview.
More recently Wong-Tam has been pushing the mayor’s office for more help for small business and residential tenants caught in the economic fallout from the pandemic. She says more also needs to be done to offer mental health services and housing.
Wong-Tam’s work has received accolades from friend and foe alike. It’s no surprise then that the federal Liberals came calling when they were looking for someone to run in the recent Toronto-Centre by-election.
Wong-Tam, who has been approached by both the NDP and Liberals to run in the past, says with COVID-19 raging a run for higher office “was the last thing on my mind.”
She says she couldn’t entertain the thought of abandoning her constituents now when so much needs to be done. “My heart is in the city,” she says. Toronto is the richer for it.
Wong-Tam also cherishes her independence and says maintaining it is not always possible in the party system that’s in place with higher orders of government.
“If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we have to work across party lines,” she says. “It’s forced us to re-evaluate the art of the possible.”
Check out the full list of this year’s Readers’ Choice winners here.