How much do you know about our neighbor up north, i.e. Canada? Take this 3 question quiz to see how much you don’t.
1 How much of Canada exports go to the US?
2 What is Canada rank in total oil reserves in comparison to other countries say for example Saudi Arabia?
3 Who is the first Greek councilor to represent Danforth and Greek town (the American equivalent of Astoria)?
A Aravella Simotas
B Olympia Snow
C Mary Fragedakis
The answers are :
1 C: 75% of Canada’s exports go to the US
2 3rd: Canada comes in behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela as the 3rd highest petrol producer
3 C: Mary Fregedakis: The one question you will never ever get wrong again after reading this article.
Greekamericangirl.com caught up with Councillor Fredegakis on a typical day on the job. In this interview she talks about her upbringing, her heroic greek mother and the importance of including a woman’s perspective in politics.
(Just in case you are not familiar with Canadian politics, Fragedakis would be equivalent to one of our assemblymembers in local NYC politics. An almost uncanny parallel would be Arabella Simotas, the first Hellenic woman to be elected to city government from a predominantly Greek neighborhood. Instead of districts, they are termed Wards.)
Fragedakis, a first generation Greek Canadian with roots from Crete, is serving her second term as council member from Toronto. A successful business woman for many years, she founded and ran an events company before making the move into politics. business-to-business conference company. Her company won an award for its green mindedness by the city of Toronto as it In 2008 for its advocacy efforts in promoting conferences dedicated to eco-marketing and best practices. As an advocate for youth and new immigrants she spearheaded a not for profit Broadview Community Youth Group to integrate newcomers using arts.
In 2010, coming out of nowhere according to some, Mary beat out six competent competitors including Jane Pitfield, who was once a city councillor from East York and even a serious mayoral candidate. Her first term was marked by projects that aimed to improve Toronto infrastructure.
She won her second bid for the seat receiving close to 60% of the votes over contenders that included another Greek Canadian, John Papadakis, from the same Ward.
So what does she contribute to her victory? In one interview in the Toronto Sun she credits a pair of good walking shoes. In this interview she credits her Greek immigrant mother who for the first time in her life registered for an ESL class to be able to speak English as she knocked on doors campaigning alongside her daughter.
DOWNLOAD to hear the interview in its entirety. Here are some excerpts to her interview:
About her Hellenic Identity
I am very Greek. I was born into a Greek family here in Canada. I am also a Greek citizen. We even considered moving back to Greece in the very early eighties but it didn’t wind up working out. It’s something that my dad always dreamed about.
My mum has been in Canada 50 years this year. She came here because this is a great country and it is and was really a land of opportunity. I grew up in a Greek neighborhood where a lot of my parents’ generation didn’t speak English and in many instances still don’t really speak English. I live in a great neighborhood where a lot of the businesses are Greek and a lot of the employees of the non-Greek businesses speak Greek and assist the Greek-speaking population. My mum actually enrolled in an English as a Second Language class after I was elected to public office in 2011 in her mid 70s because she wanted to help me out on the campaign trail. She had been retired by that time for 12 years, and I said to her that she had to take on new interests. “You can’t just stay home and clean. The house is clean already. you don’t really have to clean it every day, “ I told her, “come on.” So she was my right hand when I was knocking on doors during my campaign trail in 2011. She actually went for three years and she’s very much improved from what my friends tell me even if she doesn’t speak to me in English.
About the neighborhood or Ward she represents.
I represent the area I grew up in, Greek Town or East York. I still live in the neighborhood. I never moved away. I represent a lot of people from my parents’ generation I represent a lot of people whose parents have moved away to the suburbs and then the kids my generation a lot of them are moving back into the neighborhood. I live 5 blocks from where I grew up. I wanted to represent the same neighborhood I lived in. I didn’t want to live in the suburbs because Greek Town had a great vibe, it’s close to the downtown. Other people in the community feel the same. They are working with me and I work with them hand in hand to continue to improve the neighborhood.
About the traditional role that Greek women play
My Mum is my hero. She came here by herself as an adult without knowing English. She basically got a job within the first week of moving here. If you come to a country as an adult, sometimes you don’t have the time to go to school to learn English. She was very independent and fearless to come here alone. I look to her as a role model. She does not fit the traditional role model of a wife and mother in Greek society. She actually had a choice to go to Rhodesia where her sister lived but chose to come to Canada because she wanted to go somewhere where women could work. She met my dad two years later and got married here because they were introduced through my grandfather. So my mom actually came to Canada to make a better life for herself. She thought about going to Australia or the United States but in 1966 Canada was accepting immigrants more easily than the US.
I think there is a perceived stereotype of the Greek traditional woman, but as everyone knows, in every Greek family it is the mother that runs the household. In other ethnic groups that might not be the case, but I don’t know of any Greek house where the mother doesn’t run the place. It’s a false perception because when I first decided I was going to run, my father who is more traditional questioned my choice. He said politics is not a place for women which makes no sense as the evidence of many women in politics in Canada and even in Greece. But once I made the decision and explained it to him that I wanted to run and I think I am going to win, and asked for his support, he backed me.
I looked to my mom as someone fearless. I was inspired by that. Everything that I do does not fit into the traditional role. I don’t see that perception to be a true reflection of what exists in the world.
How her Greekness has propelled her success
As Greeks we have politics in our blood. As a child of an immigrant family you are always always working hard to be successful because that’s kind of the expectation of your family, right ? They made all these sacrifices to leave their homelands so that they can have a better life for themselves and for their families so they’re constantly pushing you to be more– to be better–to get a good job and have a good future and and all sorts of things so there’s that kind of pressure. We take that kind of pressure very seriously, so you grow up wanting to be successful. And you do work hard. If you look at everyone who is it from my parents’ generation and your parents’ generation, they always took part in building Canada or building America or building Australia or building any society that they go and make their home. As a child of the Greek Diaspora, this is the expectation we hold on to. It’s kind of what’s been passed on to us, “afto pou kouvalame,” our “klironomia” or inheritance.
On her support of gender issues in the City Council
Gender issues are very important to me. Last week we passed a motion in the Council making it possible to have gender parity on public boards of the agencies and commissions of the city of Toronto. The Boards of directors on public agencies should be reflective of the society that we live in. If we as women make up half the population, we should make up half of the boards of directors of all the agencies in the city of Toronto. No such measure has ever been adopted in my knowledge in Canada before but we have a new prime minister that has made his cabinet have more women in on it. It was part of a larger national initiative to increase those numbers. Also in 2015 I introduced a motion in the Council which was supported to request that to the Bank of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mint actually get more women’s images printed on money. This motion has since passed. I wrote to the Finance Minister along with one of my counterparts on the Montreal City Council. We co-wrote the letter to the finance minister and just last year they announced that they would be conducting a competition to find a woman to put on one of the bills. This initiative started with a woman who had reached out to me and I said to her I would be pleased to move a motion such as this. I forwarded it to the Finance Minister and now that’s going to happen so we’re really excited. I wouldn’t object to anybody who is actually advancing women’s rights in this country on one of the bills. We have loved the suffragettes . . .somebody like Nellie McClung or somebody like Agnes Macphail. That would be fantastic as far as I’m concerned. Here in the city of Toronto we have programs where we employ female interns who are considering jobs in the government or in the public sector in our offices and we mentor them.
About What It’s Like to be a Woman in Government and Politics
Women are minorities in government as they are in other places in the world. There’s more male representation and that has made it harder to have a female lens on issues. When I got elected in 2010 that was the first time in Council where we had the largest number of female Representatives across the city of Toronto. We made up a third of the elected representatives in the Council and that had an enormous impact on policy decisions.
Women are nurturing. We don’t just think about ourselves. We think about other people; we think about our kids, our parents, our partners. The issues are complicated because people are complicated. For other groups historically issues are more black and white. We don’t see the world quite so black and white because we know that issues are complicated because people are complicated. Take for example an issue such as developing a sidewalk. When you’re designing the street you’re not just designing the streets for the cars, you are not just designing the street for the bicycles, you’re also designing the street for those with mobility devices. Women recognize that there are people who are older, who are in wheelchairs or have those other devices (I don’t know what you call them). In general women think of all people who need the sidewalk. How do you design the sidewalk so that people who have problems with their hips can actually get up on the sidewalk or people pushing baby strollers. Now we see the world in this way because we are caregivers and we think about other people. We are rearing the future generation and we see the complexity of these issues whereas some other people historically have not taken them into consideration. If women made more of the policy decisions, the world would be designed a little bit differently so I think it’s important that we have this different perspective.
Her Proudest Accomplishments
I’m really proud to be the first woman of Greek descent to be elected to Toronto City Council. And I’m also proud to be the first Greek person to be elected to represent Greektown and the Danforth area, the largest Greek community in Canada. Other Greeks from Greektown have run but have never been elected. I’m proud of so many different projects that we have accomplished for the community.
Why She Was Elected
I am one of them. I am from the neighborhood. I’ve lived my whole life in this neighborhood. I think people know that I want the same things they want. I’m interested in people’s input and having a conversation. I think the role of government in 21st century is not to push down policy but what the community believes in moving forward. I am a very strong environmentalist and the community shares my views. There’s a lot of likemindedness.
Additionally, the time was right. For a long time we have tried to get someone elected to represent the Greek community. The fact that it took so long speaks to a number of issues within the Greek community.
On Problems in the Greek community
There are problematic areas in the community. Take for instance the crisis in Greece. Instead of beating ourselves up publicly about it I think that we should band together. We should support each other more but it’s quite shocking that we don’t. I was elected in 2010 to represent the Greek community and I found it odd that two Greeks decided to run against me. Instead of going to another neighborhood and trying to get more Greek reprentation on the Council, they chose to run me. We have to get to the point like other ethno-immigrant groups to support each other.
It’s not about the me it’s about the we. If we could actually unite, we would be unstoppable. We are our own worst enemy.
How to Balance the Work/Life as a Greek Woman
You neglect your family when you are elected to public life. It’s hard. But then you get reminded that you have neglect your family. My mum called me last night, “Did you forget me?” she asks on the phone. “Of course I didn’t.” “You haven’t talked to me, you haven’t called me all day,” she says. “Yes, I did. I called you yesterday.” Greek mothers are good with the guilt.
I am reminded to carve time to spend with my family. Especially as my parents are getting older. According to them they are always dying. My parents have been dying for the past 30 years. “This is the last Christmas,” my mother says,” I might have with you.” And my father too. And I respond, “Get serious. You people are never going to die.”
Her Vision for the Future of Greektown
I love representing my community. I am standing for reelection in 2018. we still have much to accomplish. to make the neighborhood even better. We are studying a number of proposals to improve the streetscape, to make it more culturally vibrant. Since there has been a 2nd wave of new Greek immigrants from Greece who have settled in Greektown. I want to continue to make sure Greektown is known throughout the world as an inclusive, vibrant place.
The Greek community is alive and well here, and since the crisis in Greece, we have had a renewed wave of immigration from Greece. Many new Greek immigrants have moved into the area I represent. They are invigorating the neighborhood with new businesses. This hasn’t happened since the last wave of Greek immigrants in the 70s. It’s really nice to see. I have met many of the newcomers. I have even seen many of those who have moved away for 30 or 40 years who are returning to the neighborhood. It’s beautiful to see that and am happy people are supporting them.
To read more about Councilor Fragedakis, log onto her official website: maryfragedakis.com