Knia Singh doesn’t mince words about his experience running for mayor of Toronto earlier this year.
“It was an unfortunate representation of how our system should be,” he says. “There were 35 candidates, and everyone only focused on two of them.”
Singh’s is a familiar refrain, one expressed by just about every candidate not named John Tory or Jennifer Keesmaat. Singh was part of a second tier of mayoral candidates who did receive invitations to some debates. He participated (along with Saron Gebresellassi and Sarah Climenhaga) in one such debate on The Agenda. He’s adamant that the gates to democratic participation be opened wider, even if that means including candidates like the controversial Faith Goldy, a far-right white nationalist whom many view as a neo-Nazi sympathizer (and who finished third in the mayoral race).
“I’d definitely have given her a voice,” says Singh, who eventually placed 10th in the mayor’s race, receiving 3,244 votes of the more than 700,000 cast. “Yes, she represents racist and bigoted views. But I’d have liked the chance to speak against her.”
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Singh would like to see some institution — maybe it’s the mainstream media, maybe it’s city hall — establish some measurable criteria in advance of the next municipal election. Meet the criteria, and you get to participate in all-candidates’ debates. He rues the fact that, in the past election cycle, inclusion in debates was left up to the whims of whichever organizations were holding them. (The Green parties of Canada and Ontario have been making the same case for years.)
“I enjoyed trying to convince people to vote for me,” says Singh, who was born and raised in Toronto. “I’ve been running to represent common people. I don’t do it for money or fame or power.”
Like most so-called fringe candidates, Singh had to decide whether to focus on campaigning or raising money. He chose the former, going all-out to raise issues he cares about, such as more affordable transit and earlier Sunday start times for the subway system. He’s a regular contributor on Newstalk 1010 radio who won some attention for going to bat for students of colour, who are disproportionately suspended or expelled from public schools.
Throughout the campaign, he continued to run his legal practice (Singh is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School) and champion social-justice causes.
Singh is very much attached to Scarborough, where he has sought political office seven times — always unsuccessfully. In 1997, he ran for Toronto city council in the Malvern neighbourhood; in 2010, he tried again, this time in Rouge River. He ran twice in Rouge River in 2011: first for the federal Green party, then for the provincial one. He tried for provincial office twice more in subsequent years. In 2017, he contested the municipal byelection in Scarborough–Rouge River, a race that Neethan Shan eventually won.
Strangely enough, Singh’s lack of electoral success doesn’t seem to deter him. “I think it’s a duty to run for people who care about the community,” he says. “As a member of the African Canadian community and a first-generation Canadian, I understand the plight of low-income people, of people with immigrant parents. So, I put myself forward as an option.”
No doubt, he’ll do so again.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Singh ran for Toronto city council in 2000; it was actually in 2010. TVO.org regrets the error.