Honouring a Leader and her Legacy

Submitted by Kirsti Battista on July 25, 2017 - 1:35am
A Tribute to Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell

On July 7, we lost a devoted community advocate and leader, Toronto Deputy Mayor and City Councillor Pam McConnell, at the age of 71.

Deputy Mayor McConnell was a shining light, a progressive poverty activist, devoted public servant, inspirational leader and a dear friend to us at Tamarack. We are deeply saddened by her passing and share our condolences with her colleagues, friends, family, constituents and residents of Toronto. 

She was an outspoken social justice advocate who worked tirelessly for the city’s most vulnerable people and was a champion for healthy neighbourhoods and vibrant communities. In her seventh term as a city councillor (Ward 28 Toronto Centre-Rosedale), Pam McConnell was appointed by Mayor John Tory as the lead of the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy; a role that was a natural fit and is now an integral part of her legacy.

In spring 2016, Tamarack hosted Deputy Mayor McConnell as a keynote and workshop speaker at the national Cities Reducing Poverty: When Mayors Lead summit in Edmonton about the extensive engagement process that Toronto had undertaken to co-create the TO Prosperity strategy. In this capacity, she and Director of Social Policy, Analysis and Research, Denise Andrea Campbell, along with members of the Toronto Poverty Reduction Advisory, shared their key lessons and experience with a delegation of over 330 other elected officials, municipal staff, and community leaders from across the country.

Pam McConnell

Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell at the Cities Reducing Poverty: When Mayors Lead summit in 2016. Photo by Kristine Culp.

In her address, Pam McConnell stressed the importance of bringing unlikely players together, really listening to diverse voices and valuing the insights and expertise of people with lived experiences of poverty.

“Poverty is everyone’s business,” she said. “We are both the problem and the solution.”

In the fall of 2016, Pam McConnell also took part in Tamarack’s annual Community Change Institute by welcoming a bus load of delegates from all over North America to Toronto’s Parkdale Neighbourhood for an interactive learning tour.

Inside the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC), she shared some of the issues and challenges affecting vulnerable people in Parkdale and other Toronto neighbourhoods like Rexdale and Regent Park. She spoke of access to nutritious food, affordable housing and equitable transit as priorities for low income residents, and to some of the City’s work on the provision of affordable transit fares, social procurement, and the development of a Lived Experience Advisory Group. She also emphasized, as she often did, the resilience, creativity and determination of residents to contribute to building their communities.

Deputy Mayor McConnell knew how to harness the power of community and facilitate cooperation amongst unlikely partners. Her outspokenness, persistence and hard work has impacted and influenced thousands of people not only in Toronto but across our national and international community as well.

I for one will miss my spontaneous run-ins with Deputy Mayor McConnell at events across the city and will fondly remember our conversations which always left me feeling inspired by her approachability and her gusto. At a recent basic income forum earlier this year, I observed her compassion and desire to listen during a conversation she had with an individual who had opened up about his struggles to escape poverty. She acknowledged his experience with warmth and kindness and I watched them walk down the street together, heads bobbing as they engaged in friendly conversation. The last thing I heard him ask before they were out of earshot was, “so what does a deputy mayor do anyway?” which I imagine the Deputy Mayor responded to in a respectful way, without ego, to satisfy his curiosity. That’s just the type of person she was.

There are many people and groups who are keen to honour Deputy Mayor McConnell's work and ensure it continues, among them, our staff at Tamarack and all our partners who believe in inclusion and the power of community change. 

Thank you, Pam McConnell for your life’s work and for showing us what’s possible when you devote your head, heart and hands to the cause. Your legacy will not be forgotten.