Crowded field in race to represent Spadina-Fort York in upcoming Toronto election 26 September 2022 04:16 AM: Ausma Malik knocks on the door and waits with a handful of campaign literature.

When the door opens and a prospective voter named Barb appears, she starts her quick pitch. Barb wasn't aware the municipal election is now just a month away, but is happy to see the city council candidate.

"That's why I'm here," Malik said, handing her a flyer. "The election is on Oct. 24."

Barb chats with her for some time and thanks Malik for running, she's worried there aren't enough people out there willing to take up public service. But in Spadina-Fort York, that may not be a problem. Malik is one of a dozen city council candidates vying for the open seat left when incumbent Joe Cressy decided not to seek re-election.

Spadina-Fort York is one of the fastest growing wards in the city and the race to represent it has produced some of the biggest ideas of the fledgling campaign. 

Malik, who has served since 2014 on the Toronto District School Board, says she's making a bid for council because she's concerned about affordability in the core.

"To me, it is unacceptable that people and families in Toronto are being squeezed out of our city," she said. "And in the city of Toronto, we're actually losing more affordable housing units than we're building." 

A growing community in the core

Spadina-Fort York stretches from Ossington Avenue in the west to the Port Lands in the east. It runs north to Dundas Street and its southern boundary is Lake Ontario.

According to Canadian census data from 2021, the population of Spadina-Fort York has jumped by nearly 18 per cent over the past six years. More than 136,000 people now live in the ward's 12 square kilometres, largely in high-rise condos. The age of an average resident is 36.

CityPlace is just one of many high-rise condo-based neighbourhoods projects that have been built in Spadina-Fort York over the last couple of decades. (Makda Ghebrelassie/CBC)

Malik says the intense level of development has created its own problems, and the disparity between those with high and low incomes continues to grow. The city needs to spend money on services that help residents and will need the revenue to do it, she said.

"That's the other big priority around the affordability and livability issues in our city, investing in the services, the parks, the public transit, and the supports that come alongside growth and keep pace with it," Malik said. 

Large field of candidates with big ideas

Rocco Achampong, a lawyer who fought Premier Doug Ford's move to cut council in 2018, is also seeking the ward seat in Spadina-Fort York. He agrees that the city needs more revenue to provide services and has pitched a congestion fee for people entering downtown.

The charge would raise money for city services and help address traffic problems in the core. People who live in the ward would be exempt from the charge, he says. 

The ward is home to many of Toronto's tourist attractions, theatres and sports venues so asking visitors to pay the charge makes sense, he adds.

Rocco Achampong, right, is seen here in September 2018 talking to reporters with Selwyn Pieters. They were reacting to Doug Ford's decision to appeal a lower court and invoke the rarely used notwithstanding clause in the Canadian constitution to cut the size of Toronto city council. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"If you can pay 15 bucks for a beer at a Blue Jays game, you can contribute 10 bucks to a low congestion fee," Achampong said. 

In Trinity Bellwoods, long-time residents of the ward Steve and Simone Spring say green space is at a premium and candidates must address that.

"You see it in the park that we're sitting in now, that on warm days in the summer, so many people who live in those condos have no access to green space, unless it's a big park like this," Steve Spring said.

"So it ends up looking like Woodstock every other weekend," he said, referring to the legendary rock festival that drew half a million fans to a farmer's field in upstate New York 53 years ago. 

Candidate pitches pedestrian bridge to Ward's Island

April Engelberg, who placed second to Cressy in the 2018 vote, is running again and wants to build a pedestrian cycling bridge from the Port Lands to Ward's Island. Most of the green space in the ward is on the Toronto Islands and ferry service can be slow and expensive for some residents. 

"I will advocate to build a pedestrian and cycling lift bridge to the Islands so that all Torontonians can access this public park for free," she said on her campaign website. 

Ward resident Josh Cockerell said he's concerned about the pace of growth in Spadina-Fort York and would like to see more "thoughtful development" from city council.

"It does seem to me, and the people in this neighbourhood, that developers really get a free pass," he said.

A ferry from Ward's Island arrives at Jack Layton terminal in 2020. Toronto city council candidate April Engelberg, who's running in Spadina-Fort York, is advocating a pedestrian and cycling lift bridge to the Toronto Islands. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

"And there's not enough listening to the locals in these communities that are bringing up big issues and not getting represented fairly at city hall."

While he follows city politics, he doesn't hear friends and neighbours talking about the election and worries that too many people are feeling disengaged.

"I think there's probably some complacency and some settling for the status quo. …. Hopefully, we can create some change instead of settling for the path that we're on." 

Here is the full list of the candidates running in Spadina-Fort York from the city's website:

  • Rocco Achampong
  • Robb Cooke
  • April Engelberg
  • Kyle Enslen
  • Peter George
  • Ausma Malik
  • Karlene Nation
  • Laura-Maria Nikolareizi
  • Arber Puci
  • Igor Samardzic
  • Stepahnie Soltermann
  • Andrei Zodian

Toronto's election is less than one month away. Here are some other stories you might want to check out:

What's your biggest issue ahead of the Oct. 24 election? Let CBC Toronto know by filling out the form below and a producer or reporter may reach out for more.

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