In June 2018, history was made in the riding of Toronto Centre when a New Democrat was elected to represent the riding at the provincial level. The Liberals had been in power for the last 19 years, since the creation of the riding. Suze Morrison, a 30-year-old community activist and communications professional, surged to victory amid a huge loss of Liberal representation in the provincial legislature and an influx of Progressive Conservatives.
Since her election, Morrison has been a vocal opponent of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s actions, including shrinking Toronto City Council and the overhaul of Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum. In this Q&A, Morrison clarifies the difference between a councillor and MPP, her plans for Toronto Centre over the next four years and why she loves being a woman in politics.
At your community meeting, you mentioned your family has struggled with Toronto’s community housing system. How did that experience growing up help prepare you to be a community leader later in life?
I think it’s really important that we start to see more elected representatives who have lived experience of what folks in our community are dealing with everyday. It certainly adds a different lens to the work that we do, and it allows us to more clearly articulate to our colleagues who don’t necessarily understand the complex issues and barriers that community members are facing. As a child, I grew up in really significant poverty. My mom was a single mom trying to go back to school to make a better life for us. She went back to U of T when she was 40, and raised us on campus in student housing while we sat for 15 years on the waitlist for Toronto community housing. I never even saw the inside of a unit. This is what 15 years of underfunding of community housing has done in our province. People are falling through the cracks. It’s completely unacceptable — and things certainly aren’t getting better under a Ford government.
How do you think we can make headway on the housing crisis in 2019?
It needs to become a top priority for all orders of government. We’re losing about 1,000 units a year to disrepair across the province because the municipalities can’t afford to maintain them. We’ve got a shrinking number of units and a growing need as poverty continues to increase. We have more people on a waitlist than we actually have living in social housing, and no strong strategy to address any of these issues. It’s not a top-line priority for the federal government at this point. We’re at a total crisis point and nothing short of substantial investment is going to fix this problem.
What is it like to be a female politician?
One of the things I enjoy about being a woman in politics is getting to change the way the game is played. When you add a critical mass of women to the way that we do governance and policy work, you change the rules. We get to champion issues from a different lens that’s never been at the table at the same volume before. I think that it’s not without its challenges. At the end of the day, I work in a building [at Queen’s Park] that was not designed with me in mind. As women, we have to carve a place out for ourselves and change the dynamic of the conversation. But there’s still echoes of the sexist institution that the building naturally is in a lot of ways.
What do you like best about your riding?
Toronto Centre is one of the most amazing ridings in the country. It’s really unique in a number of ways. We are the smallest geographic electoral district in the entire country – seven square kilometres with a population of over 110,000. We also have the highest number of Toronto social housing units of any riding in the province and the highest concentration of co-op housing out of anywhere in the country. Our issues in Toronto Centre are a really intense look under a microscope of how social issues play out on a large scale in one of the most densely populated parts of our country. When we’re talking about critical social issues in this riding like poverty, homelessness, housing, precarious work – we see those pressures more acutely here than anywhere else in the province. I think it makes us a really strong advocate as a community.
What issues do you think are most pressing for your constituency in 2019?
Housing and homelessness. The housing file is interesting because it’s not just the social housing and shelter capacity aspects to it – that’s huge, and obviously a top priority – but in Toronto Centre, we face all of these other pressures. When you look at young people in downtown Toronto, who want to be buying their first homes and starting families, they can’t do it. A junior one-bedroom condo these days is going for half a million dollars here in Regent Park, how are folks supposed to get access to housing they can afford? How do we build really intentional, connected, supportive communities where no one’s left behind? That’s an important conversation we need to be having in downtown Toronto from a development perspective.
What do you ideally want to accomplish during your time as MPP?
My work here over the next four years is putting up the strongest line of defence against Doug Ford as I can. What I hear from my constituents all the time is how much they need that. This is a government that is going to be balancing the deficit on the backs of our most vulnerable. On the backs of our children by cutting after-school programs; on the backs of the homeless as they continue to ignore the shelter crisis that we’re facing; on the backs of people with disabilities as they work through changes to the Ontario Disability Support Program. My work is really going to be about fighting to protect the programs and services that people rely on in my community.