This is the full text of my inaugural speech. Delivered at Queen's Park in the 42nd Legislature of Ontario on Monday, September 24th, 2018.
Thank you Mr. Speaker.
It is privilege to rise today in the People’s House to deliver my inaugural speech. Over the past three months I have started to feel more and more at home in this chamber and I have to say I look forward each and every day to joining my colleagues on both sides of the House to serve the people of my community and all Ontarians.
So, I’d like to begin by thanking my colleagues for their guidance, support and encouragement in my first days at Queen’s Park. It truly is a testament to our collective purpose here. It doesn’t matter if we’re from different parties, from rural or urban ridings, veterans or newly elected members - at the end of the day, I believe we all share the same goal: a better, more prosperous, Ontario.
It feels a bit odd to call this my inaugural speech.
We’ve had a busy and productive start to the 42nd Legislature and I’ve already had the opportunity to address this House on a number of important issues like climate change, ending the longest university strike in Canadian history, and reducing the cost of living for families in my riding.
I’ve also already had the opportunity to table a private members bill: Garrett’s Legacy Act, which will help ensure children in our communities are safe at play.
So, for my official ‘Inaugural Speech’ I would like to take a few moments to speak about the greatest riding in Ontario: Willowdale. The challenges we face as a neighbourhood and the opportunities we have to prosper.
I’d also like to speak about the path that has lead me here, and what I hope to accomplish in the years ahead.
Willowdale is an amazing community and I am proud to call it home.
In the northern most part of the City of Toronto, it straddles the line between urban and suburban. It is incredibly diverse in almost every way. We have densely packed condo towers along Yonge Street - which cuts the riding evenly down the middle. On either side are quiet residential streets of single family homes where it’s not unusual to see kids playing street hockey or chasing an ice cream truck.
Willowdalers - or Willowdalians, there’s some debate about that - are also incredibly diverse. Over half of our population was born outside of our country and we are home to the largest community of Koreans and Persians anywhere in Canada.
Willowdalers are proud of their individual heritages. Our main gathering place at Mel Lastman Square is constantly filled with festivals; celebrating Lunar New Year, Hanukkah, Chuseok, Nowruz, Philippines Independence Day, and many other events.
But Willowdalers are also proud of their collective community, as Torontonians, as Ontarians and as Canadians. No celebration is quite as big as Canada Day.
We are tolerant, caring, and strong.
Earlier this year, our community suffered a tragedy none of us could ever have imagined.
On April 23rd, 2018 a man intent on causing harm and terrorizing our community drove a rented van up onto the sidewalks of one of our city’s busiest streets, ending the lives of ten people and injuring 16 others.
Like many of my neighbours this event shook me to my very core. We were scared. We had been attacked in our home, on the streets we all walked every day.
But in our most fearful moments, our community came together. We stood up against those who sought to divide us. Within moments, every day heroes in my community leapt into action. They delivered first aid, they gave each other shelter and comfort, they reached out to strangers to let them know that they were not alone.
This is what makes Willowdale special.
This is who Willowdale is.
Despite the differences in where we come from, or the language we speak, the religion we practice, our sexual orientation, or the way we vote; we love our neighbours. We know that our diversity is our strength.
Our community does have challenges.
Over the last two decades, Willowdale has seen unprecedented growth. Once a sleepy bedroom community, our population has exploded. Willowdale has already reached it’s provincial population growth target for 2041 but past governments at all levels failed to look forward and invest in the necessary infrastructure to support this growth.
This poses serious pressures on our community especially when it comes to traffic, transit, schools and housing.
At the southern boundary of my riding, the longest street in Canada, Yonge Street, meets the 401, the busiest highway in North America. Twice a day, cars line up to ramp onto the highway, backing Yonge Street up for kilometers and holding the surrounding residential neighborhoods hostage. Residents can’t even turn off their own street. In other areas, commuters race through quiet streets trying to beat the traffic on the arterial roads, putting our local children at risk.
Transit is often no better. Willowdale has three subway stops in our riding and yet the system is so over-capacity that it is not uncommon for Willowdalers working downtown, to ride the subway two stops north to Finch just to be able to get on a southbound train.
Meanwhile, up and down the Yonge Street corridor Willowdale schools are operating at up to a hundred and fifty percent capacity. Children who can see a local school from their condo balcony are being bused across town. Willowdale is bursting at the seams.
These will not be easy problems to fix but there are solutions. We need responsible development in our community. Development that’s supported by investments in infrastructure, transit, and schools.
While I was knocking on doors during my campaign I met lots of people who were frustrated by the development in Willowdale - people who might be accused, unfairly of NIMBYism. But these Willowdalers aren’t against our community growing. They know how wonderful Willowdale is, and why so many people want to move there. What they want is sensible development.
Similarly, my experience in the real estate industry has taught me that savvy developers want the communities where they’re investing to succeed. It’s in their best interest to build in neighborhoods with good schools, transit and community.
We cannot rail against the high cost of housing in Toronto and complain about a market that’s keeping young families and millennials from buying a home, while fighting to stop new housing supply from being built at every turn. Nor can we continue to add pressure upon pressure to local communities without some form of relief.
There can be a win-win.
By supporting our growing communities like Willowdale with innovative, forward thinking infrastructure solutions, good governance, and practical policies we can make room for more Willowdalers without destroying the fabric that makes a community like Willowdale special.
I want to thank the members of my community for giving me the great privilege of being their voice. I will work hard everyday to make our home better for all of us.
My story, and the story of my family is a familiar one to many in Willowdale. I am the proud child of immigrants. I owe everything I have today to my parents and the country and province that gave them refuge.
My father, immigrated to Canada from South Korea in 1972. He moved to Guelph, Ontario. He didn’t speak English or understand our Canadian culture but he believed that, in Canada if he worked hard, he would succeed.
One of his first jobs was hunting for earthworms in the middle of the night and selling them as fishing bait.
After a few years, he returned to Korea briefly where he met my Mom and convinced her to come back to Canada with him. To this day, she says that she married my Dad because she wanted to see Niagara Falls.
The two of them worked in a Becker’s Convenience Store and eventually saved up enough money to buy their own franchise. They worked long hours, seven days a week.
When I was young I’d sit in the corner of the store and do my homework while my dad studied for his real estate license behind the counter. I remember listening to customers hurl every racial slur imaginable at my parents and I remember watching as they were robbed at knife point. But they never gave up. They only worked harder and harder to give me and my siblings a better life than they had.
In 1980 my dad got his real estate license and eventually started his own brokerage. As a child I remember sitting in the back seat while he signed a deal on the hood of his car.
We moved to Willowdale when I was eight and I attended York Mills Collegiate before going to the University of Toronto. I was a good student, I had to be. My parents had high standards.
After graduating, I worked as an auditor for Mercedes Benz Credit where I traveled all over Ontario from Windsor to Kapuskasing auditing car dealerships. But before long I found myself back in Willowdale working in the family business.
I started as a real estate agent and eventually took over as broker and general manager and alongside my dad grew the brokerage to almost 200 agents in 4 offices across the GTA.
It’s the story of my parents that lead me to politics.
I don’t tell them nearly often enough but I am so proud of them.
And so thankful for the tireless sacrifice that provided the opportunities that made me who I am today. Thankful for the belief that they had in this country and this province.
Like most second-generation Canadians I grew up with an imposing sense of gratitude and, - - of unworthiness. A weight of living up to the standards of the amazing generation that had it much harder than we do.
A sense that our lives must amount to something great, to make the sacrifices of our parents worth it. For a long time I felt a sense of duty to build on the legacy of my parents’ generation. To ensure that the opportunities they worked so hard to provide for me are obtainable for the next generation, for our children and grandchildren. To protect the values that I believe make this province great: that with hard work you can go from selling earthworms to owning a successful business.
Sadly, these opportunities are disappearing: the dream of owning a home, the possibility of entrepreneurship, the ability to support a family, are becoming harder and harder to attain in our province.
We face real challenges and hard choices. But I believe we have a responsibility to build on the successes of our parents and steward our prosperity for our children. I believe that we can protect our planet and fight climate change without putting people out of work and making it harder to make ends meet. I believe we can care for the most vulnerable in our society and deliver world-class education and healthcare without leaving it to our children to pick up the bill. I believe we can return our province to a balanced budget without cutting jobs.
None of this will be easy to do. But it is the right thing to do.
On Friday, we heard from the Minister of Finance that Ontario has a fifteen billion dollar deficit. For too many years, the previous government spent money we didn’t have and put it all on our childrens’ credit card.
Our constituents have entrusted us all to be responsible, to govern responsibly, transparently, and pragmatically. It is my belief that we can have no higher priority than this.
As Parliamentary Assistant to the President of the Treasury Board, I look forward to continuing to work with the President, the Minister of Finance, and the Premier on the bold, transformative changes we will need to bring responsible fiscal policy back to Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, in my very first days at Queen’s Park the outgoing Speaker, Dave Levac said something that stuck with me. He pointed out that, in the history of our province, only around eighteen hundred people had ever served as MPPs. A relatively small number of citizens who get to represent the voice of their communities.
Not a lots of people get to do this.
So, in closing, I want to once again thank my colleagues, my staff, my volunteers and campaign team in Willowdale, my friends and family, and in particular all my constituents for their passion in our community, their trust, and for giving me this incredible opportunity to serve my neighbours.