By Betsy Powell
NDP-backed Neethan Shan will be the first Tamil-Canadian to serve on Toronto city council after he won a byelection in Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River, according to unofficial results on the city web site.
He won 4,763 votes in a crowded field of 29 candidates in a part of the city that held its third byelection in 13 months. His popular vote was 45.7 per cent.
“I’m ready to get to work immediately,” Shan told CP24 at a victory party.
Political neophyte Zuhair Syed was a distant second with 1,452 votes followed by Hratch Aynedjian, former Ward 42 Councillor Raymond Cho’s executive assistant, who had 1,055 votes.
Shan ran a campaign promising to put “Scarborough First” after what he said has been decades of neglect at city hall.
The multi-lingual former teacher and youth worker, who came to Canada as a refugee when he was 16, also promised to bring the perspective of “resilience” and “struggles” of different communities, so there is more “inclusive decision-making at city hall.”
Neethan Shan, photographed here at city hall this month, will be the first Tamil-Canadian to serve on Toronto city. He replaces Raymond Cho in Scarborough Rouge-River.
Neethan Shan, photographed here at city hall this month, will be the first Tamil-Canadian to serve on Toronto city. He replaces Raymond Cho in Scarborough Rouge-River. (Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star) | Order this photo
The byelection was held to replace Cho, a city councillor for more than a quarter century. Cho is the area’s Tory MPP after he won another byelection last fall.
According to the city’s election website, 10,409 people cast votes
In January 2016, Shan, a married father of two, was elected as a Toronto District School Board trustee for the area after the previous representative jumped ship to the federal Liberals.
During the campaign, opponents called Shan an “opportunistic” candidate who has run for public office at least 11 times in the past 14 years, three of them in the last 13 months.
Shan has strong ties to the NDP. He was a former provincial party president and had a key endorsement of the Toronto and York Region Labor Council. He relied on that support to help with his ground campaigning and getting out the vote on Monday.
While several left-leaning councillors supported Shan’s campaign, Mayor John Tory and his Conservative allies hoped another ideologically aligned candidate would emerge to back the mayor’s agenda, as Cho often did.
As Tory insiders say, every vote counts. Earlier this month, the mayor ditched his attempt to privatize garbage collection in Scarborough because it was unclear whether he could muster enough votes on council.
Last week, while Shan said he was “proud to be progressive” he didn’t want to be “boxed” in as a councillor with a pre-determined voting pattern.
“At the end day, my priority is to make sure the people in my community are taken care of,” he told the Star.
Shan, for instance, campaigned in support of the one-stop extension connecting the Bloor-Danforth subway line to the Scarborough Town Centre, a position that puts him at odds with council’s left-wingers.
“For many people from my area who travel downtown . . . this would save them about an hour,” he said.
“We’ve had debate after debate. We should get moving, if we were building this 10 years ago it would not have cost us this much, we’ve not been building transit for far too long.”
On Monday night, Tory congratulated Shan and said he is encouraged the new councillor supports extending the subway to the Town Centre.
Shan also said he would not support raising property taxes beyond the inflation rate — Tory’s position — until Ward 42 residents feel their contribution to property taxes is translating into attention and resources.
“If that’s not happening, the communities aren’t going to be able to contribute more, including myself.”
The TDSB will now have the option of declaring a byelection or appointing a trustee for the remainder of the term. The next municipal and school board election is Oct. 20, 2018.
A trustee is a part-time job which pays $25,507 a year. A Toronto city councillor will earn about $112,000 a year if council approves the 2017 budget this week.
In the 2014 general municipal election, 24,560 people cast ballots in Ward 42, which is 51.97 per cent of the vote. Ninety per cent of residents are visible minorities.