Changing Toronto’s Political Culture

This is my first post for the Toronto Star’s Your City My City blog. It is reposted from here: http://thestar.blogs.com/yourcitymycity/2010/04/changing-torontos-political-culture.html

Toronto, the city and the region, is being transformed. Like many global urban regions, we are growing rapidly and that growth is changing the face of our community. A recent StatsCan study tells us that by 2031 we can expect the people of the Toronto region to be 63% visible minorities.

We are experiencing rapid and accelerating change on many fronts, but our political culture isn’t keeping pace. If it doesn’t catch up, we risk creating a city plagued by systemic problems stemming from exclusion, political dysfunction and the growth of a permanent underclass alongside a confused dominant class trying to reclaim an idea of Toronto based upon a mirage from its past.

Others have argued, and I agree, that the people who govern our city ought to reflect the diversity of the city itself. All adult permanent residents of Toronto should have the the opportunity to vote municipally and fully participate in civic life, regardless of their Canadian citizenship status. Despite the many commenters to the post by Gelek Badheytsang linked above who find the idea offensive, it is an idea whose time is coming. Newcomers and their children need better on-ramps to civic participation.

Beyond specific political reforms, I argue that we also need a cultural shift.

Torontonians are a reserved people. Visitors often comment on our city’s coolly aloof attitude, while at the same time lauding our diversity and the vibrancy of our multicultural assets. How do we reconcile these two impressions?

My hunch is that the dominant culture’s tolerance of diversity has for the most part been made easy by social distance and relative prosperity. When difficult decisions press us – hard choices forced upon us by limited resources – how well will we perform at reconciling our differences?

It’s not just our leaders who need to change. We need to change. “We have to engage”, John Tory said on this blog post, “WE have to listen to EACH OTHER”. I agree.

I believe that we change the realm of possibilities when we shift the dialogue we have about this city and our place within it. We need to talk about our responsibilities to each other as well as our rights and individual needs and desires. We need a movement for civic engagement powered by people.

We need to have difficult conversations that acknowledge our differences and we need to transcend these differences in ways that help us make collective decisions. We need to recognize that our futures are shared, and we need to seize the opportunity to participate in shaping that shared future.

My vision of the future of Toronto as a livable city is a place where citizenship, civic life and community are re-imagined and reinvigorated, where the potential of our diversity is realized as a strength and an asset for our future prosperity. For the experiment of Toronto to succeed, we as a people must become world leaders in civic engagement and civic innovation that embraces an inclusive diversity.

This will be difficult. This is a job for all of us; not only our City government, our elected officials and our civic leaders. In future posts, I will propose specific ideas for how to realize this vision. I invite you to share your own ideas in the comments.

About Mark Kuznicki

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