City Councillor Joe Mihevc was appointed to the role of poverty reduction advocate in October 2017. This is his first time in the role, in a political career that has spanned more than 25 years.
In this week’s Q & A, we talk with Mihevc about what a poverty reduction strategy really means in Toronto, his own formative experiences, and what advice he has for up-and-coming politicians. Sign up for the Weekend Newsbrief to get the first read of the full interview.
Here’s an excerpt:
You’ve been doing this for almost 30 years. What’s the advice for people who are thinking of getting into municipal politics? What’s the one thing that is most important about doing what you have been doing for so long?
That’s a very good question. I am leery of people who come out of university and immediately want to jump into politics. Because I think sometimes they are inspired by the game of it, right? Winning and losing and the late-night debates and the counting votes and all the jostling that happens around here. I don’t think that that’s really the kind of formation that I would say to someone who’s a budding community leader. Do we need leadership in our community? Absolutely we need leadership in our community. And what I would say the best thing for you to do is, go and work with a vulnerable community.
You can tell the people who have worked overseas, say, in a development project in Africa or Latin America or wherever, you kind of develop a sensitivity. You kind of develop a sense – holy smokes, do you come with a lot of privilege to this planet. In that process it has been my experience – because I actually used to teach a course that took students to Latin America and it would just blow their minds when they would be in the south with Indigenous communities in South Mexico, or El Salvador, or in Peru. A lot of times I went to Peru, dealing with Quechua people where you would have to do double translation and you realize, holy smokes, there is a lot of wisdom in those folks. And if you have the ears to hear and the eyes to see, you can learn a lot.
So we didn’t go there to teach, we went there to learn from them. And I think politicians that have had that, it doesn’t have to be overseas, it could be an Aboriginal community in Toronto, could be an Aboriginal community up north, it could be dealing with, say, victims of violence against women, it could be dealing in an Out of the Cold program, as long as you have an experience of having witnessed life from the margins. There’s a perspective that you gain if you’re at the center of power, which is politics. I am at the center of power here at the City of Toronto. That’s a pretty privileged position. But it’s what I bring to it. And my hope is that, when I’m listening to the better angels of my nature, that I’m bringing those perspectives of voices that haven’t been heard that are on the side.
This excerpt was taken from a longer interview that was conducted in person and has been condensed.