Democratic Engagement

One definition of a movement is an ongoing, informal group action that’s inspired by a passionately shared idea and directed toward positive change.

I believe such a “movement” is taking place and it will counteract the negative, destructive and divisive rhetoric that’s sweeping across the United States, Europe and Canada.

It involves empathetic individuals who are dedicated to making positive change that is inclusive and recognizes the many dimensions of diversity.

In many ways, it is a form of democratic and civic engagement.

A ground-breaking conference being held in Toronto, Sept 21-22, will help to enhance — if not re-define — how ordinary people, elected officials, policy makers and business leaders can work together to make change.

Roadmap:2030 (www.roadmap2030.com) will help to create a framework of best practices that will enable all Canadians to better influence, shape and develop policies that will establish a model of civic engagement so public and political sectors can more effectively involve, respond to, and reflect Canada’s diverse populations.

Ironically, Roadmap:2030 is being held in the middle of Toronto’s municipal election campaign. It has been a lacklustre campaign for mayor, where the spark is coming from one candidate who says new immigrants and refugees should be barred from the city.  Voters go to the polls Oct 25.

I have lived in Toronto most of my life. I grew up hearing about “Toronto the Good.” It was a place where people looked after each other and after their city. It wasn’t uncommon, for example, to see people walk a couple blocks to put their trash inside the garbage bin instead of dropping it on the sidewalk.

Peter Ustinov once remarked that “Toronto is New York, run by the Swiss.”

Toronto is held up as a model for diversity because the world lives here. But I’d like Toronto to be the model for inclusion, for access, for equity.

Despite a host of policies designed to make Toronto more inclusive, to capitalize and truly live up to its motto of “Diversity our Strength”,  the city’s elected leaders or other decision makers are still not reflective of the new and future Toronto.

And growing segments of the population feel excluded from opportunities many take for granted….things like jobs, affordable housing, even a decent meal.

There are multiple “Torontos”; where poverty is a reality for some, and unimaginable wealth and opportunity for others.

Numerous studies have identified the economic advantages inherent in diversity. Still, many corporations and public institutions don’t get it.

Why is it, for example, that of the 1.21 billion dollars the city of Toronto spent giving work to outside firms in 2007…that less than 3 million dollars were spent with companies owned by people of colour?

Why is it that only $14,000 was earned by companies owned by people with disabilities?

Why is it that not a single dollar was earned by companies owned by Aboriginal people?  (At a time when the urban Aboriginal population is increasing in Toronto.)

These and other pressing issues will be discussed at Roadmap:2030. Issues that have so far been absent from the municipal election campaign.

I believe it is time to change the way we think about diversity in Toronto; with a new focus on relationships, decision-making and leadership.

We need a democratic renaissance where community relationships and leadership are redefined.

We can be “Toronto the Good” again. A Toronto that’s better than New York and run by Tor0ntonians.

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