Doorstep Postings: Josh Matlow promises to make antisemitism more of a political priority in Toronto—whether or not he ends up succeeding John Tory

Councillor Josh Matlow intervened to get this mural repainted—even though it depicted the patriarch of the family that owns the building, who commissioned it.

This is the 12th in a series of opinion columns on Ontario’s 2022 municipal elections, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

“When I find out, I’ll let you know.”

That’s what Josh Matlow said when I asked him to address rumours that he’s planning a run for mayor in 2026, when John Tory promises to retire.

It was a good answer, as the three-going-on-four-term city councillor—who won his first election as a school trustee in 2003, at age 26—couldn’t have answered the question directly in the midst of a campaign.

But even if he’s not able to tip his hand yet—or, if the decision isn’t entirely his to make—he’s certainly spent a bit of time putting together a fairly strong case against the current incumbency. 

“If you watch John Tory on CP24, he’s always talking about how amazing everything is,” he says. “The trouble is, there’s a disconnect and people aren’t experiencing that.

“Back in January, during the blizzard, they were talking about how much snow they’d cleared and people could see for themselves that the sidewalks and roads hadn’t been cleared. You see the same thing for washrooms, water fountains, parks… it’s always ‘things are fine’ until the pressure gets to be too much and the mayor capitulates.”

Matlow says that, at the doors, it’s more of the same of what we’ve been hearing in previous elections: a general sense of decline and worries about not being able to afford or find a home. “Let’s see that things are awesome first, and then we’ll agree,” is his ask.       

When it comes to the city’s progress on fighting antisemitism, it’s a variation on the same theme. The current campaign, which ends this month, has moved from a general focus on fighting hate to talking specifically about the hatred of Jews.

According to Matlow, the campaign has been long overdue—and it’s been so low-profile that I had to remind him it’s part of a public-service promotion that has a name: “Toronto For All.”

“They put it off for many months,” he says. “For the city of Toronto to not prioritize the Jewish community with respect to its campaigns to challenge hate is, frankly, bizarre.” 

Matlow thinks that while Tory has been personally supportive of the Jewish community and recognizes that antisemitism is deplorable, he hasn’t seen a lot in the way of meaningful action.

“We need an explanation from the mayor and the City of Toronto’s communication staff as to why this took so long. Every form of hate needs to be challenged, but it’s clear that when it comes to antisemitism, it’s not that they don’t value what we say, they just don’t get it.

“When we debate the issue at city council the responses are focused on many communities who do need our attention, but the Jewish community is rarely if ever mentioned.”

While he waits for an explanation, Matlow has been very busy in the interim.

Locally, he’s been working with trustee Shelley Laskin and synagogues such as Beth Tzedec to raise awareness at local forums. He’s also been directing efforts outside his own ward, working with Mike Colle and James Pasternak to move and pass a 2021 motion condemning hatred against Jews.

In addition to raising his profile, these alliances in place could come in handy if he ever became mayor.

Beyond that, what else can we do to fight antisemitism in Toronto?

“The city can do as much as the city can do,” he says. “We have to acknowledge homophobic, anti-Black racism, and antisemitism are all growing at an exponential rate.

“We have to work with every level of government and community leaders, local shuls and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, and experienced members of the community as well as those who have never experienced antisemitism directly before now, and feel scared.” 

Words that sound like they’re being spoken by a mayor-in-waiting. 

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.