The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) hosted Mississauga’s mayoral candidates on Thursday October 4th in the Kaneff Centre. The two-hour panel is the only scheduled debate involving Mississauga’s mayoral candidates. The event was livestreamed on the UTMSU Facebook page.
Candidate Kevin Johnston, a Mississauga resident and operator of the online media outlet “The Freedom Report”, was reportedly not invited to participate in the debate.
According to a video on Johnston’s official YouTube account, Johnston can be seen attempting to register for the forum outside of the venue. However, executive director of the UTMSU Munib Sajjad tells him that the event is at capacity.
Johnston told The Medium in an interview that there looked to be approximately fifty people inside the venue.
The maximum capacity for the room, Kaneff 137, is three hundred and fifteen.
“I would say the auditorium was about one fifth full, perhaps less than that,” stated Johnston.
“[They] were very secretive about the whole thing, which is something that I’ve gotten used to unfortunately with extremely left-leaning individuals,” he continued. “They never give an explanation—they just want to shut the debate down and never be held accountable for it.”
In a press release on the mayoral candidates forum, the UTMSU stated that it “believes that freedom of speech and freedom of expression is essential to our democratic system. It also supports students’ rights to study, work and socialize in an affirming environment that is free from harassment, violence and discrimination.”
According to a mississauga.com news article, Johnston was accused of wilfully promoting hatred and charged under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Johnston told The News on March 7, that the charge relates to an allegation that he published material that “could be viewed as demeaning to Muslims.”
Johnston told The Medium, “We’re fifteen months later after that charge was filed, and I haven’t even entered a plea yet. So, what’s happened here is that the only one taking it seriously now is the crown attorney. The judges don’t even want this case, but I do. Part of it comes with being charged in my own country under Islamic blasphemy law. It’s going help me sell a whole lot of books in the future.”
The Medium asked Johnston his opinion regarding Premier Doug Ford’s free speech policy, to which he replied, “I support free speech unto my dying breath.”
“Unfortunately [students] have been babied and told that it’s a good idea to put your feelings before facts,” he continued, “and that it’s a good idea to call men like me and Doug Ford […] racist simply because we have an argument that’s different than what [students] have been told in school. The truth hurts, but it’s still going to help you a lot more than comfortable lies will.”
UTMSU Media told The Medium that they extended invitations to six mayoral candidates: Scott E.W. Chapman, Bonnie Crombie, Andrew Lee, Yasmin Pouragheli, Syed Qumber Rizvi, and Tiger Meng Wu.
“The event was extremely successful, with the candidates engaging in a dynamic debate […] from all sides of the political spectrum,” they stated.
In a correspondence with The Medium, UTM Campus Conservatives president Harris Watkins stated that, “I believe the views [Johnston] espouses are completely incompatible with what the university stands for, and therefore I support the choice to not include him in the forum.”
The panel began with introductions from each of the mayoral candidates, followed by questions from the UTMSU on municipal issues, such as transit and housing. Audience members submitted their own questions over the course of the event.
Incumbent Mayor Crombie praised Mississauga city council’s accomplishments over the last four years but added that “there was still work to do.” Crombie explained that her tenure was successful in attracting over 430 new businesses and increasing the tax base by $20 million. She went on to explain that her platform had a focus on improving affordability and public safety while resolving transit issues affecting MiWay.
Crombie, Chapman, and Pouragheli agreed that the provincial government had a responsibility to support municipal infrastructure and transit improvements. Rizvi had a different view, citing the Hurontario Light Rail Transit (LRT) line as a precedent for traffic congestion through the Hurontario corridor. Lee proposed improving accessibility for Mississauga seniors by expanding existing transit options.
On the issue of student housing, Lee focused on seniors, citing that seniors’ housing should be taken into consideration at the time of planning new residential and commercial developments across the city. Rizvi said builders and developers continue to make housing expensive because of a high profit margin.
Pouragheli, a 26-year-old law graduate and University of Toronto alumnus, offered solutions inspired by pilot projects in Germany called “micro-apartments.” Pouragheli went further by proposing bylaws that restrict mixed-use housing, which combines residential and commercial uses of the same space. Chapman advocated in favour of easing restrictions on renting rooms in the city.
Incumbent Crombie cited the city’s affordable housing strategy, “Making Room for the Middle”, saying that it “aims to address affordability issues in the city with various regulations.” Among these, Crombie explained, are the addition of inclusionary zoning and requiring new developments to have a minimum 35 per cent of affordable housing units.
Inquiries on immigration and child care were discussed at the conclusion of the debate in the form of audience questions. The candidates did not comment, explaining that these represented federal and provincial issues, and would remain unaffected in the municipal election.
Following the debate, Crombie joined the UTM Campus Conservatives at a “Pub Night” event hosted off-campus.
Sajjad declined to comment on the incident between him and Johnston.