Allyssia Alleyne and Glen Murray chat over black bean soup. Photo: Chelsea Pottage

Lunch with a side of politics

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With less than a month until elections, Arts & Life editor Allyssia Alleyne sets out to give students a glimpse of their local candidates. This week, she sits down with incumbent Toronto-Centre Liberal candidate Glen Murray to chat about his plans for students

AA: Where did you go to university?

GM: I did a couple years at Carleton then I travelled in Europe for a year, then I came back to Canada, back to Montreal. Then I went to John Abbott College and Concordia University.

AA: Were you backpacking?

GM: Yeah. Backpacking, travelling through North Africa and Europe. I’ve always been fascinated by cities and city development, which has always been my passion.

AA: Was there a city that really stuck with you?

GM: Oh yeah. I really liked Barcelona.

AA: Me too. I went backpacking there last year between semesters.

GM: It’s an incredibly livable and well-organized city. Great transit, great culture, great art, great design.

AA: Were you part of any clubs?

GM: I was one of the founding members of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS); I was president of the student association at Concordia; I was on the executive of something called L’ANEQ, which stands for “L’association nationale des étudiants/édudiantes du Québec.

AA: How did you get so motivated?

GM: We were doing a lot of human rights stuff. At that time, the Shah Pahlavi was replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and a lot of leftist student friends of mine who were Iranian were being sent back to Iran forcibly, and having their visas cancelled. We ran a refugee program where we hid students in our homes and in basements and protected them from being deported or hunted down by the state police in Iran. I was also very volatile because I organized the general student strike over the affordability of education.

AA: A lot of student movements are talking about dropping fees these days. What’s your take on that?

GM: I fought very hard at cabinet for lowering fees, which is hard to do when government finances are constrained. You never forget your roots. The grant for 30 per cent of tuition is something I fought very hard for and I believed in. I think it’s a good first step to making tuition more affordable in Ontario. It’s certainly not where we need to be, but I think it’s good progress[…]I was disappointed in the CFS’s response to it, but they tend to be a little partisan these days. But I think it was a good start and I look forward to working with them.

AA: What do you think is a good second step?

GM: I think, as we come out of the recession, we should be looking at an affordability index and the cost of living for students. The important thing, I think, is being able to offer students employment. We need to do a lot better in that area going forward.

AA: Which issue do you think is the most important to students?

GM: I think having a job and having a life where you can make a difference and be the person you want to be is what I would describe as the most important thing I hear.

AA: Do you have any projects going on near Ryerson?

GM: One of my staff, Chris Drew [former Vice-President Finance and Services at the Ryerson Students’ Union], got me involved in the Close Gould Street campaign, so I’ve become an absolutely dedicated follower of that.

Councillor Wong-Tam and I are working very closely on the remaking of Yonge Street in this area, from Dundas Square north. We’re looking at designating, as a province, this part of Yonge as what we’re calling The Innovation Avenue. So we’d do things like free Wi-Fi. We’d have digitally interactive screens. We’d sort of explode the Digital Media Zone out onto the street so that Yonge Street would become an avenue for arts and visual public art and sculpture. We’d have an electronic aspect so you could have interactive surfaces, demonstrate the most modern in digital media technology out there. In the old days, we used to talk about electric avenues. This would really be a digital innovation portal.

AA: What are some of your favourite Toronto Centre haunts ?

GM: The Dominion on Queen is one of my favourite hideaways. The Queen and Beaver over on Elm. I like Nicholas Hoare’s bookshop on Front Street. I like to just hide in the big chairs. I love good fiction and I love Canadian fiction. And I love the reference library. I’m a bit of a library-aholic.

And, finally, Cherry Beach. I have a labrador now – my old dog died. [I like] going down to Cherry Beach, which is right at the edge of the constituency, and watching my dog go swimming.

AA: What’s your dog’s name?

GM: Shadow. It’s a black labrador with a bit of border collie.

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