'Once our politicians get elected, they don't come and talk to the men and women on the street'
Residents of Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood crowded into a gymnasium on Tuesday night to find out what four provincial election candidates will do about their concerns.
Held at the Driftwood Community Centre, the meeting was organized by the Jane Finch Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force and it was an opportunity for residents and community groups to highlight key issues in the community.
Residents pressed candidates on what they would do to address their issues.
Progressive Conservative candidate Cyma Musarat, New Democrat Tom Rakocevic, Liberal candidate Deanna Sgro and Trillium Party candidate Lucy Guerrero were there.
Here are five issues residents highlighted:
Minimum wage and workers' rights.
Winston LaRose, a member of the Jane Finch Concerned Citizens Organization, or "Mr. Jane and Finch," as he says he is known, said the Jane and Finch community is often overlooked by politicians.
'These are the forgotten people'
"These are the forgotten people," he said. "Once our politicians get elected, they don't come and talk to the men and women on the street, or I'd say in the housing, because that's where they're located."
For LaRose, the state and recent closures of Toronto Community Housing buildings were top of mind.
"We must talk about people living on Shoreham Court, living on Driftwood Court, those in Grand Ravine, those in places like Firgrove, which most of the politicians don't want to go to."
Community housing was also on the mind of local tenant representative Amanda Coombs, who said access to fresh food was one of her key concerns.
"Inside of the food banks, a lot of the foods they receive are canned goods and full of preservatives," she said.
Politicians often out of touch, say some
When it comes to everyday issues, she said, most politicians are out of touch. Coombs is one resident who remains undecided about which party will receive her support.
"I just really hope that whoever is elected is really somebody who sees from the inside out and not from the outside in."
High school teacher Dennis Keshinro said improvements to education are especially important to the riding, which is diverse. Keshinro said he wants to see the next government do a better job of focusing on the needs of students of immigrant backgrounds who may be pushed from grade to grade without being properly equipped for the curriculum.
"When we have 10 students going to school and we only have five and three graduating, that's a huge problem," he said.
Keshinro said he's watching the candidates carefully, but isn't disclosing which one has won him over.
Education was also a concern for community advocate Suzanne Narain of Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty.
"Many of the families in this neighbourhood are immigrant families and education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, but we see that there are increasing class sizes, less support for special ed," she said.
With just over a week to go until election day, Narain said she knows which party will be getting her vote, but she's concerned about what she calls "professional politicians" telling the community what's best for them without having real experience living in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood.
"One of the problems that we see in many elections is that we see people say that they're for the people or that they want to advocate for the people but they are actually of the elite… they make it see like they care about the livelihood and dignity of poor people when they are not."
Ultimately, LaRose said he hopes this election will galvanize those in the community who lack representation in government to exercise their right to vote.
"You get out there and cast your vote," he said. "Make sure your voices are heard and well-represented."