The event was completely organized and hosted by the Hart House Debates Committee.It was the last instalment of the Committee’s four-part series of lectures and seminars on municipal elections. The last three, organized with UTSU, had been intended to inform students about what municipal
elections actually entail. Yesterday’s event sought to bring people into direct contact with candidates.
Both the Debates Committee and UTSU representatives concurred that municipal elections are far from being the most impassioned issues on campus. Considering the direct effect that local councils go on to have on student life, though, the organizers seemed to consider the lack of interest incredibly unfortunate.
“To try and bring about change at City Hall,” said Debates Committee Program Director David Pereira, “the first step has to be taken through your local councillor. Before anything, you have to make sure that councillors are in tune with their constituents.”
There did indeed seem to be a genuine push towards establishing something of a connection between candidates and students on Wednesday. The Debates Committee had worked to get together every single candidate from wards neighbouring—or on—the St. George campus. To advertise the event, UTSU executives had distributed over 7,000 cards and posters at various orientation events around campus. The evening’s agenda was focused on issues which would have a direct bearing on student life—such as public transportation costs, bike lanes, and affordable housing.
Organizers even attempted to make the milieu as informal and ‘relaxed’ as possible. Flamboyantly-dressed local comedian Evelyn Reese was brought on as emcee. The first part of the debates consisted of three mini ‘game-shows’. Candidates were quizzed on their knowledge of Toronto, and asked to show off any ‘talents’ they might have.
Whether any of these things actually succeeded in achieving the intended intimacy is, however, arguable.
“We weren’t able to engage with each other in any real way,” said candidate Mike Yen, running from Trinity-Spadina. Yen pointed on that the event’s imposed liveliness scarcely disguised the fact that nothing really new or original was expressed. The same admissions of honesty, responsibility, and love for Toronto’s diversity were repeated ad nauseum.
“Even though we came here to debate, there wasn’t much room to dispute each other’s points. There were just too many people on stage. New candidates and incumbents definitely did not have an equal voice.”
The demographics of Wednesday’s audience were also fairly striking. In an event geared towards students, the audience was predominantly composed of community members with little or no direct affiliation to the university.
Elections for the Toronto City Council are slated for October 25. It remains to be seen whether Wednesday’s event succeeded in getting U of T students to get out and make a difference in the polls.