Toronto’s election process has officially begun. With advanced polling stations now closed, and election day around the corner on Oct. 22, many people may be trying to decide who to support. However, some voters may find many names on the ballots unfamiliar thanks to the media’s lack of coverage on racialized candidates.
Thirty-five candidates have registered to run for mayor of Toronto — many of whom have extensive backgrounds both coming from, and working with communities that are consistently marginalized. But chances are, you haven’t heard of many of them.
Mainstream media coverage has largely focused on incumbent John Tory and former chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat, painting this as a two-horse race. This approach to coverage not only prematurely assumes the outcome, but also warps it.
Mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi is a nationally recognized human-rights lawyer and activist with an extensive track record in advocating for the people of Toronto. She grew up in the city’s Weston Road neighbourhood after coming to Toronto as a young refugee from Eritrea.
D!onne Renée — another black, female candidate — previously ran for mayor in 2014 and received little coverage then. Renée is an activist who has supported organizations such as Black Lives Matter and has protested against social and racial injustice in the city.
Tory and Keesmaat are labelled as the “major” candidates, while coverage of the other 33 candidates sport terms such as “long-shot candidates.” This terminology draws a divisive line between the candidates and tells the public who essentially matters most.
In Toronto’s 184-year history, the city has predominantly voted in men for the position of mayor. The city has only ever had two female mayors; Barbara Hall and June Rowlands. All of the city’s mayors have been white.
This isn’t to say that votes are swayed by race, as policy and platform are the backbone of any true electoral process. However, the coverage of candidates does not appear equal when considering racial and gender equity, which may inadvertently alter public perception.
According to the Distorted Mirror report, women and racialized candidates almost always receive less media coverage than their white, male opponents. The report also shows that when they do receive coverage, it is often negative and focuses on personal information rather than policies.
When Renée first ran for mayor in 2014, media coverage referred to her as an “obscure” candidate, and described her as the candidate “who has been kicked out of three mayoral debates.” Articles seldom mentioned the positive work she conducted in the community.
Rather than aiding and helping to remove social, political and economic barriers of both racial and gender inequality, the media is perpetuating them.
In many headlines of the mayoral debates, only Keesmaat and Tory are mentioned despite other candidates being present during the debates.
In a Toronto Star headline, Tory and Keesmaat are named the “two main mayoral candidates.” The article goes on to detail their pledges on housing, arts and culture and transit, among other topics. Unsurprisingly, it failed to mention any other candidates and their positions.
Toronto prides itself as one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world. More than half of the people living in Toronto identify as visible minorities, according to Statistics Canada. Yet, 90 per cent of councillors are white.
Ultimately, Toronto residents should vote for the candidate whose policies best align with their own, regardless of race or gender. However, both the public and the candidates deserve a fair representation before casting any ballots.
In a city as diverse as Toronto, there is no reason why its positions of power should not reflect the diversity of the communities they are meant to represent.