Shift the conversation: Democratic Engagement

Democratic Engagement measures the participation of citizens in public life and in governance; the functioning of Canadian governments with respect to openness, transparency, effectiveness, fairness, equity and accessibility; and the role Canadians and their institutions play as global citizens.

Indeed, to sustain a democratic society, democratic engagement is a must.

 

Committed Citizens Change the World


As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” In Mimico, Ontario, this is precisely what is happening.  When citizens become democratically engaged by participating in political activities, expressing political views, and fostering political knowledge, they take ownership over their communities, working actively to support building a well and healthy place to live, work and grow.

South Etobicoke, like so many communities in the city, is faced with gentrification. In 2004, a proposal by the local city councillor called the Mimico 20/20 Vision set the initial stage for revitalization mostly along the Mimico-By-Lake area. This revitalization threatened nearly 1,900 units of affordable housing located in this area. According to a Toronto by-law, developers need to replace the affordable housing but there are no guidelines as to how soon they need to do this or the proximity to which the replacement affordable housing must be built.

Despite the fact that the tenants living in the affordable housing may have been relocated outside of their community with this revitalization plan, the tenants of Mimico were never consulted by the planners. Most tenants did not even know that plans for redevelopment were even being discussed.

It was then that LAMP Community Health Centre (CHC) decided to take action. With the support of their very active board members, the CHC released a statement about the need to protect the existing housing in the area. They also organized two community forums to both educate the community members about what was happening and what their rights were as well as to gauge the level of interest in taking more concerted action.

A core group of affordable housing and housing co-op residents emerged and organized themselves under the name, The Ward Six Community Action Team (W6CAT). With financial and resources support from the CHC to arrange meetings and provide trainings and tools, W6CAT began to engage and mobilize their community.

By partnering with York University and the University of Toronto, the group was able to gain research about their area as well as what other communities had done in similar situations. W6CAT also joined the Mimico Lakeshore Network Coalition, a group of 10 community based organization such as faith-groups and housing groups in order to strengthen their voice.

W6CAT began organizing events, such as two speakers, three tenant education workshops and handing out close to 2000 pamphlets, to raise awareness about the issues at hand. Before long they had gathered close to 400 members and created a unified voice that could not be ignored.

Of the many achievements of this initiative, including mobilizing an entire community, partnering with numerous organizations, and gaining community capacity to advocate and raise awareness, one of the biggest successes was getting the City of Toronto’s Chief Planner to make a secondary plan for redevelopment ensuring a 1:1 replacement of tenants with at least 80% being replaced on site.

This huge victory of W6CAT has not slowed down the momentum of the group; it has only fueled the desire for these engaged, concerned citizens to keep working together to improve their community. Organizations such as CHCs are well-positioned to play a role in advocacy issues by providing the resources, knowledge and linkages to help communities mobilize so that they can tackle the issues that matter most to them. W6CAT is a reminder of the power that democratically engaged citizens can have in promoting the wellbeing of their community and making sure their voices are heard.