Join us this month for a new series, where Emily Steers and Daniel Tarade introduce listeners to the Municipal Socialist Alliance (MSA) candidates running for mayor, city councilor, and school board trustee throughout Ontario!
Up next is Wali Abro, the MSA candidate for city councilor in Toronto-Danforth Ward 14.
Wali is a Socialist Action member who became a Canadian citizen last winter, having immigrated from Pakistan nearly 10 years ago. He subscribed to the clichéd image of Canada: that it was fair, compassionate, and built in partnership with the Indigenous peoples. That image was quickly shattered.
Now, he’s fighting for the Canada that was promised. Wali has long been an advocate for electoral reform, holistic social support, and decolonization. He is an active community volunteer, keeps close to the grassroots, and is a passionate activist for Indigenous rights from Turtle Island to Palestine.
Wali is taking his fight forward by running, as part of the Municipal Socialist Alliance team, to be Councillor for Ward 14 – Toronto-Danforth on a platform that features immediate housing for people experiencing homelessness or precarious housing; improved public safety by significantly de-funding the police and investing in community well-being; and rebuilding Toronto’s infrastructure with climate change and population growth in mind.
Wali Abro Website
Wali Abro Twitter
Wali Abro Instagram
Toronto BDS Network
Articles and Videos:
Socialists in the October Municipal Elections | with VOTE Socialist and Municipal Socialist Alliance
All the people who work on The Red Review live and work on stolen Indigenous lands across Turtle Island. There can be no reconciliation without restitution, which includes Land Back, RCMP off Indigenous land, and seizing the assets of the major resource corporations and returning them to the commons.
Emily Steers 0:00
Hello everyone, and welcome to The Red Review. This is our next installment in our series of interviews with Municipal Socialist Alliance candidates. My name is Emily steers, I use she/her pronouns, and I’m coming to you from the unceded territories of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Neutral peoples known as Guelph, Ontario.
Daniel Tarade 0:20
Hey comrades! My name is Daniel, I use he/him pronouns, and I’m coming to you from Tkaronto, the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabeg, the Chippewa, the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the Huron Wendat. All members of Socialist Action, the host of this podcast, live and work on stolen Indigenous land from across Turtle Island. So we echo the call for land back and Indigenous self-determination. We declare that there can be no reconciliation without restitution and that includes seizing the assets of the major resource corporations and returning them to the commons. As Emily mentioned, we’re continuing a very intensive series of interviews with Municipal Socialist Alliance candidates for the upcoming municipal elections in Ontario. Vote day in Ontario is October 24. Up until then, we will be interviewing as many people involved in this new united front. Today we’re really excited to interview Walli Abro. Wali became a Canadian citizen just last winter having emigrated from Pakistan nearly 10 years ago. He subscribed to the cliched image of Canada — that it was fair, compassionate, and built in partnership with the Indigenous peoples. That image was quickly shattered. Now he’s fighting for the Canada that he was promised. Wali has long been an advocate for electoral reform, holistic social supports, and decolonization. He is an active community volunteer, keeps close to the grassroots, and is a passionate advocate for Indigenous rights from Turtle Island to Palestine. He is taking his fight forward by running as part of the <unicipal Socialist Alliance team to be councillor for Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth on a platform that features immediate housing for people experiencing homelessness or precarious housing, improve public safety by significantly defunding the police, and investing in community wellbeing and rebuilding Toronto’s infrastructure with climate change and population growth in mind. Welcome to the podcast, Wali.
Wali Abro 2:12
Thank you. Happy to be here.
Emily Steers 2:14
So that’s a fantastic bio. And congratulations on becoming a Canadian citizen. Despite our reservations about the country, that’s still a really important milestone. Is there anything you want to tell us about yourself that wasn’t included in your admittedly very impressive bio?
Unknown Speaker 2:31
Well, on second hearing, I would like to add that I think Canadians are by and far, very conscientious people. Given the chance, I think they will do the right thing. The people of Canada, by and large, are compassionate, are fair, and they do take informed decisions. So if we are able to break through the barrier of silence that the upholders of these institutions have put in place to propagandize Canadians into believing that the Canadian state is all good all the time, and it’s actually reflective of the Canadian mosaic, quote unquote, I think we’d be able to make a lot of progress if we’re able to break through that that barrier.
Daniel Tarade 3:11
Wali Abro 3:12
So I have a lot of hope in the people of Canada. It’s just, it’s just the structures that we have in place that are rotten to the core.
Emily Steers 3:18
They’re not serving us. They’re not serving the people.
Wali Abro 3:22
Daniel Tarade 3:22
Wali, I want to kind of get started. You were someone that joined the MSA this past summer. And if I recall correctly, you showed up to one of the weekly picnics and just kind of introduced yourself. And then before long, you were signing up to join a campaign of radical candidates that like you just mentioned, we’re focusing on the systems. We’re not about shaming individuals. We don’t think it’s a series of personal bad decisions that people have made that got us into this mess, but rather a system that’s holding us all hostage so that a few people can make a bunch of money off the rest of us. So you signed up for a very radical campaign. What led you to making that decision this past summer? What led you to taking that next step of joining such a radical grassroots alliance?
Wali Abro 4:05
Well, everytime I think about the social movements that we had and any sort of social justice campaign, it’s always about writing petitions, calling your MPs, sending out emails, or even going out to protest, which is great. The problem being, I’ve become painfully aware with the coverage of Palestine and the Palestinian protests in Canada that there is a deliberate or almost deliberate attempt to silence the grassroots, to silence peoples’ grievances. What they seem to be doing is just waiting out the clock, hoping we get tired, and it’s essentially a war of attrition. So I keep thinking about ways to how we could be more effective, and every time I go back looking at successful revolutions or social justice movements, it’s always, almost always seems to come down to direct action. The biggest impediment to that direct action is of course, the police. Because we can come around and try to do an occupation or a sit-in protest that’s peaceful. In its essence, it’s peaceful, but it goes against bylaw 608, or it goes against, you know, disturbing the peace, etc, etc, etc. So then the police will come down hard on you. Since the police is in the hands of the city, I decided that you know what, maybe by getting into city council, I can somehow effect a lowering of the barriers or the defenses of this oppressive system by making people realize that the police is actually an institution that upholds the status quo. So if you ever want change, and if you ever want to do a direct action, sit-in, camping out of Queen’s Park, you’re going to need to get the police off your back. That’s the overarching big thing.
Emily Steers 5:48
So it sounds like you’ve had a few experiences with police. And actually a lot of the MSA candidates have had really negative experiences with the police, with the encampment evictions, with various instances of police brutality against marginalized people in the city. Is that something you want to elaborate on for yourself?
Wali Abro 6:08
My experiences with the police have been that they always seem to want to minimize the effectiveness of the protests. They have come up to us many times saying okay, you know what you’ve got to go now because there’s a train coming, when we were trying to block a railroad. To which I thought, that’s exactly the point, you know, we want to, we want to inflict a little bit of hurt on the economy, on people who are benefiting from exploitation. And we want to get the attention of the decision makers to this. And the only way we can do that is if we actually blocked train. So they had us dispersed. I think they had a smoke, like a stink bomb that they put off because it suddenly started smelling really bad. I’m not sure though. Just even generally at Yonge and Dundas Square, where they always tell you to stay in the streets, don’t stop the flow of traffic, which again, to me, it seems like they are trying to neuter us. So when it comes to protest, it only really works if the decision makers have a conscience. And I think if we found ourselves in this position that we are in, it’s become evidently clear that they don’t, and that if we do try to bring things to their attention, they will try to wait us out, and hope we go home and forget about it. I’m not prepared to accept that defeat.
Daniel Tarade 7:28
I love that. And actually, what you’re kind of getting to there with the with the latter half of that answer, you know, that the people in power, if they actually were on our side, would they be behaving the same way they’re behaving now? So Adam didn’t want to talk about the people he was running against in his ward. He didn’t want to give them free publicity. You don’t have to talk about the person you’re running against in your word, either. But do you want to talk a little bit about opportunists and careerists in city council? Do you want to talk a little bit about the people who are actually taking up space without actually participating in the liberation struggles of the day?
Wali Abro 8:03
Wow, it’s so subtle. Love it, Danny.
Daniel Tarade 8:07
I’ve been described as many things. Subtle, maybe not so much.
Emily Steers 8:10
Not one of them.
Wali Abro 8:12
I am, yes, I’m running against the incumbent of nearly 20 years. Actually, if you count her time as an executive assistant to Dan Leckie in the 90s, she has been there for upwards of 25 years, and three years as school board trustee. Yeah, I am running against someone who is deeply entrenched in the system, and I feel over time has become accustomed to the relationships she’s built with the people who have benefited most from the status quo. That’s what happens. She’s also been quite comfortable over these past 20 or so years, which makes me, just makes me suspicious of her understanding of poverty, and the struggles that people are experiencing today, because an entire generation has been raised since the time she’s gotten into office up until today. Those people were born in the 90s are now taking up real jobs, graduating, getting out into the real world and realizing that this is a very, very hostile place. And I don’t think she has a full appreciation for that. The incumbent, I will say, her name is Paula Fletcher. She was initially a leader of the Communist Party of Manitoba. Didn’t do too well electorally there, but she did eventually just move to Toronto and start her political career here. And when asked what her political ideology is, or what her values are, she seems to say oh, you know, I have ascribe to progressive values. That’s on her Wikipedia page anyway, that all powerful source. And it didn’t seem like she was very convinced in it or convinced in progressive values or ideals. Instead, it seems as though she’s just another liberal who co-ops the language of progressive politics, of left wingers and does what is politically expedient or easy for her to do. And I think one of the biggest problems that’s stemming social change is a lack of democracy. Everything I think about seems to distill down to this one thing. In Canada, we have first pass the post, which is an inherently, I don’t want to say corrupt, but it’s inherently stupid. It does not make sense when 32% of voters can decide to give a majority government that then has 100% of the power to do whatever it wants. The fact that Doug Ford received 17.8% of the vote of eligible voters in Ontario, and ended up as 67% of the seats, a super majority, is not democratic. He has no mandate, he has no legitimacy. Even the election itself is of questionable legitimacy given that less than 50% of voters participated. We are getting this lack of trust and institutions build up. I think it is leading us towards a very dystopian reality, especially when the politicians who benefit from it say, oh, no, this is democracy. And you know, we have a mandate. And this was completely legitimate —
Emily Steers 11:21
Wali Abro 11:21
Which it’s just not. So I feel at least, at the very, very least, if we were to have ranked ballots so people don’t have to worry about wasting their vote on a candidate or a party that actually shares their vision. They can put that party at the top of the list and not have to vote strategically just because they don’t want the Conservatives or the Liberals to win.
Daniel Tarade 11:45
Yeah, strategic voting has been one of the big arguments I’ve heard against supporting, let’s say that Municipal Socialist Alliance. It’s every four years for an election, and you’re going to use your vote on some sort of ideological choice, but there might be a competitive race between a right winger and a centrist. Someone from a harm reduction model might say you owe your vote to the centrist to avoid the worst possible outcome. And what it means is an alliance like ours has such a hard time getting off the ground. And when you consider the institution that maintains first past the post voting well, you can see how they benefit from that system that silences voices like ours.
Wali Abro 12:21
Absolutely. And even though I’m a bigger believer in, let’s say, mixed member proportional, I would say that if we had ranked ballots, we would be able to take that first step forward. Because I do remember in I believe, 2007, that Ontario had a referendum on mixed member proportional, and it failed, because people, by and large, did not understand. I mean, it took me a very long time to understand, and I consider myself to be someone who’s politically savvy. So if we were to have at the very least ranked ballots, because that’s simple, and super easy, and much better than first past the post. If we were to have that, then perhaps we can start to have the discussion about mixed member proportional, but at least something that I think all of us can agree on is that first pass the post is just not cutting it, and it needs to go. That’s what it always boils down to. And the person I’m running against, the incumbent, she voted against ranked ballots, which was infuriating to say the least. Especially considering that she is someone who says she’s progressive, she’s working class, she’s for the people, then you wouldn’t do something like this, vote against ranked ballots. And then she voted in favor of one motion, which was a motion to ask the city clerk to present a report on the feasibility of conducting ranked ballot implementation across the city. It wasn’t even a vote on ranked ballots. It was a vote on the feasibility of conducting a report on how ranked ballots could potentially affect Torontonians. There’s just so many steps removed that it’s not even really a vote for ranked ballots. So she voted in favor of that and says, Oh, look, I’m in favor of ranked ballots, when that’s again, not necessarily true.
Daniel Tarade 14:04
When she was actually asked on ranked ballots, she said no. when she was asked about are you in favor of maybe looking at it in 2023? She said yes.
Wali Abro 14:14
Yeah, the 2023 one, that’s a very interesting thing that you bring up because she also tried to get a motion passed, where it said council should instruct the city clerk to present a report on how ranked ballots would affect people who speak English as a second language and to submit that report in 2023. She made this motion I believe in 2019, if I’m not mistaken.
Emily Steers 14:38
Oh my god.
Wali Abro 14:40
That means she deliberately wanted that report to come out in 2023, a year after a municipal election, probably to be able to say in 2022 if there was a motion on ranked ballots to say, hey, wait, no, there’s this report that we need to wait for that’s coming out in 2023. And I think we should wait for that report because it’ll affect people who speak English as a second language. So let’s just defer this motion for now, just so she could have the 2022 election be first past the post yet again, in a way that benefits her.
Emily Steers 15:13
Wali Abro 15:14
I couldn’t help but think of the analogy of a Trojan horse when I saw that. I’m quite furious.
Emily Steers 15:19
And rightly so. I think you make a good point that with the lower voter turnouts we’re seeing and a lot of disenfranchisement, and we’re seeing a lot of people kind of pulling away to the left, but also pulling away to the right and kind of there’s this evasion of the center that’s starting to form as people are becoming more disillusioned with the way things are. You’re right, there is a lack of trust and a deserved lack of trust. But you also point out, it’s a dangerous lack of trust. Because when we lose faith in these institutions, then things become a bit — things get a little spicy.
Wali Abro 15:55
Yeah, that’s societal collapse, and you know, things like that. Not, not the vibe.
Emily Steers 16:01
So you know, all very tongue in cheek, but you know, some people do say like, oh, well, you’re participating in electoral politics, and you’re participating in the system that deliberately does not serve the people. And you know, one would say we’re giving it legitimacy and giving it this air of progressiveness that it doesn’t have. What do you say to that?
Wali Abro 16:23
To that I say, you know, I get it. I understand, like, that’s absolutely 100% valid, but the problem is that the system is actually very ubiquitous and very powerful. No matter how much we try to, let’s say, make our own little societies that is free from this oppressive structure, we are going to eventually have to face that system, that oppressive structure, head to head, and it is always going to win because they own and control everything. So their ownership is not really based on any real natural or even artificial law, I would argue, but they have control over it and control through the threat and use of force. So if we are going to develop even a parallel society, or dismantle this structure, we need to de-fang it in some way. So I feel that by going into the system, quote unquote, or becoming a candidate in the elections and actually becoming an elected representative, we can begin to, like I said, lower the barrier.
Emily Steers 17:31
Allow for the building of dual power.
Wali Abro 17:33
Yeah, like at least give them some cover within this system.
Emily Steers 17:37
You’ve spoken about the incumbent candidate. She’s been there for 20 years. So what do the people of ward 14 need that they’re not getting and that you’re going to bring?
Wali Abro 17:47
When I started my candidacy, it was more so to get some arguments out there, the issues out there, change the framing of the debates or conversations that are happening. But as I went around the ward and spoke to people, I started to realize, you know, what, there might actually be a very viable path to winning in this because people are so disenfranchised and so angry at their condition, and they don’t really seem to know who’s in charge, and who’s responsible for this. So when I asked them about, okay, you know, has your counselor come up to you and asked you about, you know, what your problems are, what your challenges are? They say, Wait, who? Like, you mean, the MP or the MPP? I’m like, No, you’re your local city councilor. And they’re like, Oh, who is that? I’m like, Paula Fletcher. They say, I think I’ve heard the name somewhere. I might have even voted. But I haven’t really interacted with her all that much. I’ll go to the really nice businesses, and they know her. They say, Yeah, you know, she’s come in one or two times. But then if you go to like, they really beat down struggling stores, like convenience shops especially, they say she has never come here. She’s never asked about us. And in fact, nobody has from any level of government. So the fact that you’re here is very encouraging. I like that. I don’t think these politicians are going to do anything, I don’t think anything’s going to change. So what I get from that is that there’s a lot of anger, a lot of frustration at the status quo, which means that this could be a change election, where people say, You know what, I want something different. I want things to change, because the status quo got us into this mess, and it’s not helping us. It’s not working for us. That’s the sense that I get from people who are in Ward 14.
Daniel Tarade 19:25
You’ve done so much work in Toronto around boycott, divestment, and sanction, around opposing Israeli apartheid. What does it look like to bring Palestinian solidarity into a municipal election when I’ve never recalled hearing Palestine before brought up as an issue relevant at the municipal level?
Emily Steers 19:42
Foreign policy does not tend to figure as part of municipal elections even though, as we’ve seen with the whole situation with Desmond Cole, and you know, there’s so many immigrant families in Toronto, of course, foreign policy does have a huge effect at the municipal level.
Wali Abro 19:58
No, it does. It also informs politics at the provincial and federal levels. So when those elections come around, it’s the same people who are voting in the same district, same wards. In fact, Toronto corresponds very neatly with the federal and provincial ridings. Those conversations are important. And if they weren’t, then we wouldn’t have seen the first third-party advertiser who registered themselves as a third-party advertiser was a through and through pro-Zionist, I would say propagandist, because they didn’t really seem to do anything other than attack people for being antisemitic. And trying to portray any solidarity with Palestinian people as being antisemitic. What I get from that is that they try to ensure that people who are even sympathetic to the Palestinian cause are targets for destruction, to not allow people from that space to progress, to develop politically or even economically. I’ve seen a lot of people get reprimanded at work, or even lose their jobs because of their support for Palestine. So that seems to just knock out the capacity for people in the movement or in the pro-Palestine club to actually stand on their own two feet. And through that, advance the message of the Palestinian Cause, because of course, you know, if we were all jobless and struggling, and just worrying about how we’re going to get our next meal, or how we’re going to pay rent, we’re not really going to have the mental capacity to advocate for Palestine. So I feel like that’s what they tried to do to try to knock us off our feet, and I’m not for it. I feel that the struggles are very interconnected. If you principally believe in self determination for the Palestinian people, you will have to also be in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples of this land. And if people of those values are constantly beat down, then you’re going to have the continuation of this exploitation, of this oppressive structure. I think it is quite relevant to bring Palestine into the conversation even at the municipal level. And besides, we could also pass some BDS legislation, which helps the BDS movement in bringing pressure and attention to Israeli crimes, to Israeli apartheid. I think we have to do everything at every level to fight for the values that we believe in.
Emily Steers 22:18
Heck, yeah! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today and all of the best with the next couple of weeks of campaigning. If people want to find out more about you, where can they go?
Wali Abro 22:30
Sure, they can go to my website. That’s votewali.ca, votewali.ca. I’m also on Twitter. My handle is @votewali. You can also find me on the Municipal Socialist Alliance website, which is socialistalliance.ca. And you can go to candidates, you can see the program of the MSA up there. Yeah, you can also reach out to me on Instagram and Facebook.
Emily Steers 22:54
All of this will be linked down below in the podcast description. So go send Wali your support. And if you are in word 14, go give him your vote.
Daniel Tarade 23:04
Absolutely. This is an official The Red Review endorsement.
Emily Steers 23:07
As it is for all of the candidates we’ve been interviewing. It has been a privilege. As I say, I hope you have an excellent day and a wonderful next few weeks of your campaign.