Who Says Youth Aren’t Interested in Politics?

Youth promote working class candidates for municipal elections

Written by Farshad Azadian

On Friday October 15th, some fifteen youth from the Toronto Young New Democrats (TYND) and the Esplanade Community Group took part in a canvass promoting candidates Joe Pantalone for Mayor of Toronto, and Chris Moise for TDSB school trustee in ward 14. Their canvass, held in the Esplanade neighbourhood, was met with considerable support from fellow residents.

Young workers, high school youth and university students from diverse backgrounds came together to promote issues that affect the majority of Toronto’s residents, our city’s working class and poor.

On the top of the list was a clear opposition to planned cuts to social spending and the unacceptable school closures that have been occurring. Both Smitherman and Ford are committed to cutting city services through massive staff layoffs, privatizations, neglecting transit funding, and plans to expand the already-bloated police and prison budgets.

Many community members were visibly stricken by the increasing hardships that they, and working people in general, are struggling with in the current economic crisis. People were clearly looking for solutions, but many were honestly frustrated at what they deemed to be empty promises of supposedly “progressive” city politicians in the past. Regardless, the push by the youth activists for residents to “vote working class” resounded strongly.

Both Pantalone and Moise trace their politics to the New Democratic Party (NDP) and have gotten considerable backing from organized labour. This point was very attractive to many residents in the Esplanade, a neighbourhood that served as a NDP stronghold during the recent Toronto-Centre by-election where fellow resident Cathy Crowe was the provincial NDP candidate.

NDP support jumped from 17% to 33% in the last year, largely based on the concrete program put forward which included commitments to fight for affordable and well-repaired housing, affordable transit and the scrapping of the regressive HST tax. This showed that a concrete left-wing program could, in a short period of time, galvanize massive support from working class people who often do not vote because they feel “all politicians are the same”.

Joe Pantalone and other labour candidates must take this lesson to heart. As committed new democrats, we found it sometimes difficult to explain to residents why it was in their interests to vote for Pantalone. Although people were receptive to the NDP, they (justifiably) felt that Pantalone wasn’t offering any concrete solutions to dealing with their everyday problems of unemployment, costly housing, transit and the overall increasing cost of living.

Conversely, Chris Moise, who has taken an active role engaging with the Esplanade Community Group and the Toronto Young New Democrats, put forward a very concrete program based on funding to inner city schools, commitments to ensure repairs in schools, opposition to school closures as well as a challenge to the aggressive policing of high school youth through the SRO program (which stationed armed police in high schools). These positions appealed to the majority of the hundreds of residents we spoke to during the day.

We youth believe that progressive candidates should take a hint from this experience, as well as the recent Cathy Crowe provincial campaign, and begin to offer a tangible and concrete program for working class people.

Even more importantly, we encourage working class people, and youth in particular, to get organized and to begin fighting around the issues that are affecting them, their families and communities. Voting for working class candidates in this municipal election is a first step people can take in this direction.

To get involved in the Toronto Young New Democrats (TYND), contact us at: Torontoynd@gmail.com