Mayoral candidates meet with Toronto faith leaders

  • May 14, 2010
Toronto mayor candidatesTORONTO - At least four of the would-be mayors of Toronto want something from the city’s churches, synagogues, mosques and temples.

As mayor, Rocco Rossi would ask for an inventory of all social services offered by faith groups, George Smitherman would ask for a co-ordinated effort from faith groups on homelessness, Joe Pantalone would ask faith communities for help integrating immigrants into the fabric of the city, and Rob Ford wants churches to phone and alert him of any homeless people on the streets so he can personally drive out, pick them up and take them to a shelter.

Four of the six front-running mayoral candidates turned out for a May 10 breakfast meeting with the Toronto Area Interfaith Council at Metropolitan United Church. The candidates had the opportunity to appeal to an audience of pastors, imams and rabbis.

Smitherman, who so far leads in the polls at 34 per cent in an April Toronto Star-Angus Reid poll, heaped scorn on the religion-phobic city civil service for renaming the Christmas tree in Nathan Philips Square a “holiday tree” in 2002. Then-mayor Mel Lastman ordered staff to refer to the tree as a Christmas tree and passed a by-law in 2003 which prohibits the tree from being given any other name.

Smitherman also promised to appoint Councillor Joe Mihevc as city hall’s ambassador to faith communities. Mihevc, running again for Ward 21 in midtown, holds a PhD in theology from the University of St. Michael’s College and has often been asked to co-ordinate between faith communities and city hall on events from World Youth Day 2002 to faith-based housing initiatives.

Rossi, at 13 per cent in the April poll, countered that co-ordinating between faith groups and city hall should be the mayor’s job.

“God never left city hall. City hall has left God,” said Rossi.

He said that under him the city would take greater advantage of the social services and facilities run from Toronto’s thousands of churches and other religious establishments.

A key to Toronto’s future success will be the full participation of recent immigrants in the life of the city, said Pantalone, who was third at 14 per cent in the poll. Without greater social engagement “we could be the Detroit of tomorrow,” he said.

Faith communities play an essential role in making the connection between the approximately 50 per cent of Torontonians who were born outside Canada and the city’s political and cultural life, said Pantalone.

“We’ve got to figure out how, as governments, we work together for the common good,” said Pantalone.

“Faith is a great part of that, because that’s what binds the community together.”

Number two in the April poll at 27 per cent, Ford told the faith leaders their role is “you volunteer hundreds and hundreds of hours. You help the people.”

Ford then proposed his personal-touch approach to Toronto’s homeless population.

“I will never leave someone out on the street, and that’s why I give out my home phone number,” he said.

A phone call to Ford’s home, day or night, will result in Ford driving out to pick up any person reported to be sleeping outside. The Etobicoke councillor pledged he would personally drive homeless people to shelters as mayor, and claimed he has done this many times.

Though it was the fourth annual Mayor’s Breakfast, it was the first one that did not feature an appearance from the sitting mayor. The candidates’ question-and-answer session was moderated by University of Toronto religious studies professor Stephen Scharper.

Given a chance at the microphone, faith leaders brought up issues from housing to a proposal for an “interfaith day” to celebrate Toronto’s religious diversity.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.