Group raises funds for website with council candidates' profiles
Stephanie Guthrie, founder of Women in Toronto Politics, explains what Position Primer is to a crowd at a fundraising launch party for the website. (Supplied photo/Emily Soo)
Vidya Kauri, CP24.com
Published Friday, August 1, 2014 2:57PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 1, 2014 4:12PM EDT
The top candidates for Toronto’s mayoral race and where they stand on key issues are well known, but the odds are that few people know who is running for city council in their ward.
A non-partisan group of approximately 15 youth is looking to change this lack of knowledge among Toronto voters. Most of them are under 35 years old and call themselves Women in Toronto Politics or WiTOpoli for short.
WiTOpoli founder Stephanie Guthrie, 29, said the group has hired a web developer to create a “Position Primer” website that charts every candidate running for city council in each of Toronto’s 44 wards and where they stand on nine issues including employment, childcare, taxation, transit, infrastructure and affordable housing.
While some of these topics may not fall directly within a municipality’s jurisdiction, they “all have municipal relevance,” Guthrie said.
"Childcare, for example, is not a municipal jurisdiction officially, but city agencies are the ones that make decisions about how resources should be distributed within that sector," said Guthrie, adding that it is the city that allocates subsidies and carries out quality assessments for daycare providers.
WiTOpoli recently launched an online fundraising campaign to create a “Position Primer” website. The campaign was trending on Twitter the day it was launched on July 21, and on Thursday - 10 days later - the group reached their fundraising goal of $8,000.
“A lot of candidates and voters have said this would be a really great resource to people,” said Abby Plener, a spokesperson for WiTOpoli. “In addition to councillors, we’ve gotten a lot of really great feedback from other supporters. So it’s great to see how interested people are.”
Plener, 25, explained that during the last week, the Position Primer team has been digging up contact information for every council candidate in the city. If a candidate did not provide this information during registration, it is not listed on the city’s election website which means the Position Primer team has to search for them on the internet or in the telephone directory.
An online survey form is then sent to candidates with questions such as what should the city do to offer childcare options, what kind of taxes the candidate supports and what the role of public and private sectors should be in delivering services to the city. Candidates can also expound on one ward issue that is important to them. All answers are limited to 500 characters.
“It is an opportunity for all candidates to be showcased equally and voters get to see where their values are on a really wide range of issues that we feel represent Toronto’s different needs,” said Plener.
“With the number of candidates running, it can be very overwhelming and not every voter is going to take the time to do all the research they need. So, we’re trying to do our part by providing people an entry point where they can start to engage with these political issues.”
Some council candidates, including Ward 17 candidate Alejandra Bravo, have made financial contributions to the Position Primer project. Bravo said she has not yet received the survey but is eager to fill it out. Still other candidates have not heard of the project.
Plener said that because their group is small and there are approximately 200 candidates, it has not been an easy task to find contact information for everyone. The survey has been sent to approximately 80 per cent of candidates and the responses - 12 so far - have been trickling in.
Mary Hynes, a Ward 34 Don Valley East candidate, is one of the few who has submitted the survey. She said it’s a great idea because it helps voters make informed and intelligent choices, but wishes there was room for candidates to be more elaborate.
“I found it difficult to work within the constraints of the limited characters,” said Hynes. “I would like to see at least one place, for instance, what you would do in your ward or where you could actually be a little more long-winded, expand and discuss in detail.”