One of Ontario’s Liberal leadership hopefuls made a pilgrimage across the province to Bradford for a holiday celebration over the weekend.
Fareed and Umar Abro invited members of the Bradford Islamic Centre and the local Muslim community to their Bradford home for an Eid Milan party on Saturday evening, for food, refreshments, conversation and a chance to catch up, following Eid al-Adha which took place from June 27 to July 1 this year.
This particular event also offered about 30 guests the opportunity to chat with and ask questions of current Ottawa Centre MP and past Attorney General of Ontario, Yasir Naqvi, who is running to become the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. He is currently travelling across the province to speak with residents.
“For me it’s all about meeting people where they are and listening to their issues. That will help to transform the Ontario Liberal Party,” he said.
As someone who came to Canada as an immigrant 35 years ago at age 15, Naqvi said he has spent his time in politics trying to bring people together.
“We’re really privileged to live in a country like Canada, and one of the key aspects of Canada is respect for human rights. We protect everyone’s rights and work on building an inclusive society where there’s respect for each other,” he said.
As part of his leadership campaign, Naqvi wants to ensure the Liberals are a big-tent party, reflective of all the communities in the province, and he hopes to tackle issues including health care, education and affordability.
While he plans to provide more specific policy details in the coming days, Naqvi said he wants people interested in practising medicine to be able to study and become licensed in Ontario, and wants pathways for qualified immigrants to become licensed as well.
“I think there’s quite a few things that need to happen in order to ensure we’re making people’s lives more affordable,” he said.
In additional to growing the economy to help people find jobs that pay well, Naqvi also suggested there are steps the provincial government can take to make housing more affordable, including some of the steps in the report of the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force from Feb. 8, 2022, but also by encouraging people to look beyond the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).
“How can we get new people who are coming into our province and young people who are starting to build their lives, to find ways to live in all parts of the province. When you get outside of the GTHA and you look at communities like Bradford, or Belleville, or Cornwall, or Sudbury, or Sault Ste. Marie, or Brantford, you will see there is ample opportunity to build more housing which is far more affordable than major urban centres in our province,” he said.
In meeting with mayors in Sarnia, Belleville and Peterborough, Naqvi said they told him they want growth from newcomers and have the capacity to build more housing relatively affordably without destroying farmland or building over the Greenbelt.
“We have to protect the agricultural land. Agriculture is the largest industry in Ontario and in fact in Canada. We cannot afford to jeopardize the well-being of our farmers who feed us and food security. That’s why I think we need to look at intensification,” Naqvi said.
According to the Government of Canada, in 2022, the whole agriculture and agri-food system generated $143.8 billion or about seven per cent of the nation’s total GDP, and according to the Government of Ontario, in 2021, the whole agriculture and agri-food system generated about $47 billion or 6.4 per cent of the province’s total GDP.
To that end, Naqvi feels the province should be providing tax incentives and improving connectivity — not just through roads, but by improving access to broadband internet and by expanding transit from major urban centres to other parts of the Ontario.
When asked about concerns over density leading to increased taxes, he said it should work the other way around by spreading the costs of services (such as police, fire and paramedics) over a larger number of people.
“I think the big challenge right now in a lot of communities is that you have a very small pool of taxpayers paying for the services. Not to mention, when new people come in, they invest in the local economy, they support the local baker, the local butcher or the local dry cleaning services, so it actually benefits everyone,” Naqvi said.
When asked about the province’s decision to assign regional facilitators to assess the upper-tier municipalities of Durham, Halton, Niagara, Simcoe, Waterloo and York, Naqvi said he hears from municipal leaders that working with the province “is a one-way street” and that “decisions are being imposed on them.”
“What I have learned in my time being in the provincial government ... is that partnership is key. Whenever you get into a position — as we’re seeing right now from the provincial government, where the provincial government acts like they’re masters — I think you will breed a lot of distrust, and I think you will find politicians working against each other. ... Regardless of which level of government we come from, we all have to work together in service of constituents,” he said.
As someone from Eastern Ontario, Naqvi also stressed the importance of the Ontario government to be flexible to benefit communities across the whole province.
“We just cannot make decisions that just work for the Greater Toronto Area and expect that it will work for other parts of the province as well,” he said.
Naqvi also faced questions from attendees, including around education, human rights and religious rights, especially in regards to how they intersect with the LGBTQ+ community.
One attendee felt practising Muslim women should be able to refuse to provide certain services to people born male, but who identify as transgender women.
“I always think of Canada as a country that continues to evolve. This is an evolution we are going through that has a lot of growing pains. The kind of leader I want to be is to find an opportunity where you’re bringing people together, not dividing them. I do not want to come and be the leader that divides people and says ‘You’re right and they’re wrong.’ I think that will hurt us more as a society,” he said.
Another attendee felt Pride month was being pushed too much onto young children in public schools, to which Naqvi reminded the group that October is going to be Islamic heritage month.
“You will see a lot of activities that will take place in our schools talking about the history of Islam, talking about how Muslims contribute. I just really hope that all children will participate in that and learn about our faith. Just imagine if half the class walked out and said ‘We don’t want to participate,’” he said.
An attendee responded by asking if Muslim heritage will be taught and discussed to the same extent and for the same duration as Pride, and suggested that if it were, there would be backlash.
“We need to find a balance, and what I’m hearing from parents is the balance is not there,” Naqvi said.
Ward 2 Coun. Jonathan Scott was also present and said he felt that people shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions in good faith about the issues of Pride and human rights.
“The people who are mad at me when I go to a Pride event as a councillor are the same people who are mad at me when I go to a Muslim event,” Scott said. “Not everyone always has to agree, but we all benefit from the freedom. ... Having dialogue is so important.”
Unlike more traditional celebrations on the two Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, Eid Milan parties usually follow with a more casual tone.
“It supports our community, it helps us spread a peaceful message towards the community of how friendly we are and how supportive we are towards our country, our community and our friends,” Umar said.
Fareed compared the event to a Christmas party someone might have in advance of the actual holiday.
“The main message is to spread love, friendship and to encourage our community to join us, because there is no hate with us,” Umar said.
Both Fareed and Umar said they haven’t experienced any hate from the Bradford community, and through his work as the general secretary of the Friends Club of Pakistan, Fareed said he has experienced a warm welcome from councillors in other municipalities like Newmarket as well.