Josh Matlow City Hall Diary
There’s an old adage that says you can’t fight City Hall. For many residents, this far too often rings true when they come to their civic government for help but end up finding themselves lost in a maze of bureaucracy.
However, I was recently reminded that anything is possible if you work hard enough and don’t accept no for an answer. This past week an inspiring young disabled immigrant took on Toronto City Hall, and won.
I first met Oslen Christian a month ago while visiting with a group of tenants at a building in my ward. I was there to support them in a fight they’re waging with their landlord over a proposed rent increase.
During a heated discussion about the landlord’s controversial plans to hike their rents to cover the costs of fixing the building’s balconies that had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair, Oslen entered the room, unsteady on his feet but determined to have his voice heard.
Speaking with a pronounced speech impediment, he forcefully told me that if his monthly rent went up the proposed $25, he’d likely have to sleep on the streets.
After the meeting came to an end, Oslen approached me about another challenge he was facing. He had recently met with the Toronto Business Development Centre (TBDC), a non-profit started by the City of Toronto that assists entrepreneurs, about his plan to start a merchandising business.
Being young, disabled and an immigrant, Oslen feared he hadn’t been taken seriously. However, he was still convinced that if anyone would take the time to listen to him, and know his story, they would realize he has a lot to offer our city.
When Oslen was 16 years old, he was injured in a car accident in his native Antigua and was left with a serious brain injury. He also has cerebral palsy.
In 1998, resolved not to allow his disabilities to prevent him from following his dreams for higher education, Oslen remarkably convinced Antiguan politician Hugh Marshall to go to bat for him.
Marshall was able to influence a British-Antiguan telecommunications company, along with the Bank of Nova Scotia, to pay for Oslen’s tuition at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. Oslen’s ambition was already paying off.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in commerce, Oslen moved to Toronto to pursue his dream of starting a business in Canada’s economic capital. He told me that when he arrived in Toronto, and looked up at its impressive skyline, he promised himself that one day he would make it big here. He just needed to find a way in the door.
So I invited Oslen to City Hall. At my office, we met with Judy Dunstan, who works with the city`s economic development department, and Michael Donahue, a senior representative from the TBDC.
“I don’t want to end up as just another number,” Oslen pleaded. He then asked: “Will you promise to support me if I demonstrate a 150 per cent effort?”
Oslen’s persistence paid off again. He not only received the commitment of support he requested, but Dunstan and Donahue announced that he had been accepted into the TBDC’s BIZ Futures program, which helps people with disabilities start their own businesses.
Oslen is now on a path that will help him refine his business skills, work with other fledgling entrepreneurs, and follow his dreams.
Municipal government works when its politicians and bureaucrats truly work together in the interest of our city’s residents. When it does work, the doors of City Hall swing open for people like Oslen Christian.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.
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