Orest Sklierenko, special for NP-UN.
Recently members of the Ukrainian Canadian community in Toronto had the opportunity to meet with the Mayor of Toronto, John Tory. This was a typical outreach meeting for both incumbent and aspiring politicians. By reaching out to meet with groups in their electorate, the politicians accomplish a dual objective of hearing and better understanding the group’s needs, while at the same time reminding the room of their successes and examples of support, sharing their plans for the future, and hitting home on their key campaign messages in front of a captive audience.
Sometimes, the audience fails to adequately capitalize on the opportunity these meetings present. That was not the case on this occasion. On this occasion, the group raised important points any concerned Torontonian would have – traffic, transit, gun crimes, etc. – which were addressed by Mayor Tory as per his public stance on those matters. On issues raised related to the Ukrainian Canadian community, the assembled community leaders took the opportunity to remind Mayor Tory of Mayor Vitaly Klitschko’s invitation to visit him in Kyiv, encourage business ties between Toronto and Kyiv (and other parts of Ukraine), as well as thank him for his crucial support of making Toronto’s Holodomor memorial a reality. I would be remiss not to thank UCC-Toronto past-president Oksana Rewa and her team for spearheading this important project, and current UCC-Toronto president Taras Bahriy and his hard-working executive for helping raise the funds and taking the ball over the goal line.
It is equally important to note Mayor Tory even wanted to hear details of a recent issue troubling many ethnic communities in Toronto, specifically the 50-year-old International Languages program at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. This program has been recently threatened by an impasse in collective agreements between organized labour and the TCDSB. The issue currently sits with the Ontario’s new Ford government and its Ministry of Education. We are hopeful that the provincial government will work with the TCDSB to resolve this issue as some members of this government have pledged their full support. Even though education decisions rest outside city hall’s mandate, with decisions affecting our children’s education typically made between school boards and the province’s education ministry, Mayor Tory expressed a sincere interest and concern for this issue and pledged to lend his support for this important program – one which reflects the multinational makeup of our city – in any way possible.
It was the prevailing opinion in the room, that John Tory’s time at the helm of what may well be the greatest city in the world, has brought a sense of unity and positivity.
Mayor Tory left us with some insights on that evening, and in fact through his words and actions over the course of his time as Toronto’s Mayor.
The first insight was his ability to set aside partisan politics to get the job done for his constituents. This included working with at first Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, and now Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in Ottawa; and provincially negotiating at first with the Liberal Party and now the recently elected Conservatives. We can take a lesson from this and learn to put aside our partisan stripes in order to ensure our community is adequately and capably represented at all levels of government. We have people in our community who are committed to a life in public service and they should feel confident that we have their backs regardless of the way the political winds are blowing.
The second was Mayor Tory’s lesson of not being afraid to challenge the status quo. He shared the example of the privatization of garbage collection in the western part of Toronto, which ultimately resulted in the providers in the other districts of the city finding a way to deliver the service at a similarly lower cost. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result. Sitting back and criticizing work being undertaken by the leaders of our community institutions and organizations – almost all of whom do it on a volunteer basis – is not a positive way to move our community forward. We need younger generations to continue to increase their support of, and involvement in, the outstanding community organizations we have inherited from those who came before us. In the past couple of years, I have been encouraged by signs including watching younger generations beginning to take leadership roles, and the emergence of collaborative projects and partnerships which have begun to take down the walls of silos that previously existed between some of our community’s organizations and institutions.
A final lesson was to look around and appreciate how lucky we are to live in the city, province and country we live in, supported by a vibrant and productive Ukrainian Canadian community with many institutions, groups, clubs and organizations as we have. He reminded us of the importance of giving back, of looking around and finding people and groups who are less privileged than us and finding a way to help them too. This would allow us to be looked upon with even greater admiration by other groups that make up the rich, multi-cultural landscape of Canada, our home.
We wish Mayor Tory well in his bid for re-election as Toronto’s Mayor. We thank him for his lessons and look forward to his continued support and leadership in the future.
Orest Sklierenko was born and raised in Toronto by parents of Ukrainian ancestry. Orest has led the Education Committee at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Toronto branch, for almost five years, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko.