Rowena Santos: Brampton’s New City Councillor for Wards 1 and 5

Community News & Features Oct 26, 2018 at 4:38 pm

Rowena-Santos_Screenshot-2018-10-24-21.51By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter

It was a team effort that paid off for Rowena Santos and Paul Vicente. While both of them will be representing Wards 1 and 5, Vicente is the new regional councillor, with Santos as the new city councillor. Santos is also one of the first two Filipinas elected councillor in Ontario.

“Today, the residents of Wards 1 and 5 voted to move our city forward. They elected local representatives who value teamwork,” stated Santos in a press statement. “This has been missing on the council and is part of the reason why we have not progressed as a city.”

Vicente will be one of five elected regional councillors, with the sixth seat appointed by the council. During a phone interview, Santos stated that she intends to put her name forward for that sixth regional council seat.

Running a Successful Campaign

Santos, who lost her bid in 2006 for Toronto councillor for Parkdale-High Park has certainly come a long way. Over the past 12 years, she’s built a career behind the scenes at Queen’s Park, managing successful campaigns for the likes of Jagmeet Singh in 2011 and Gurpreet Dhillon in 2014.

Another strategy was deciding to run together with Vicente. Vicente, who ran for regional councillor in 2014, came in a close second to the incumbent despite having no experience or name recognition. After working together on projects like Brampton Focus, Stand UP for Brampton and Neigbourhood Watch Brampton, Santos recalled saying to Vicente, “Maybe we should work together as a team.” She said their aim was to start “shifting people’s thinking” about what’s possible in terms of their local representative. “We decided and it was very successful,” she said.

Santos, who grew up in Brampton, said that she plans to address issues like property taxes, crime and creating local jobs. But in a city without large media corporations, she said that she had to get creative – which meant using social media and going door-to-door.

“One of my expertise is in grassroots organizing and really campaigning on the ground,” she explained. “We don’t have a CP24, we don’t have major media coverage so the only way that residents in Brampton really get to know their candidates is if they go in, door-knocking.”

Together with a diverse group of volunteers, she and Vicente made it a point to go door-to-door together daily from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. In August, they launched a platform online based on feedback from residents.

She also credits her volunteers, mostly young people whom she met and joked with while canvassing. “Even though their parents weren’t home, I knew to ask them, ‘Hey, do you need community hours? Is this something you might be interested in getting involved in?’ And many of them would say, ‘Yes.’”

Engaging the Community

After seeing residents’ cynicism towards politicians, Santos and Vicente decided to find ways to engage the community since there was a “hunger” for community involvement.

She helped establish a youth program and scheduled town hall meetings.

“I think one of the reasons why the [previous] councillors were not successful before was because they kind of hid away from it,” she said. “Town halls are a really good way to be accountable.”

One of the more immediate concerns that she believes needs to be addressed is the legalization of marijuana. “We’ve heard residents’ concerns around the selling of marijuana around schools and all that stuff,” she said. “There’s also an education component that has to come with it, too, because there are the medicinal benefits of marijuana, right? So that’s a big decision that’s coming fast and furious for sure.”

Santos, who identifies as a member of the NDP, said that political parties are not important on a municipal level. With Patrick Brown now the mayor of Brampton, Santos said that having members from different political parties at the municipal level is “a good thing.” “We have access to those networks to lobby, to communicate, to get information and to get support,” she said.

Family Time

When asked what her recent win means to her, Santos said that she thinks about her lola, who passed away in 2001 and “how proud she would be of her granddaughter.” She said that her parents were crying and that her dad offered to drive people to the polls.

Santos is a single mom to eight-year-old Lennon who also did his part, canvassing with Santos and young volunteers. “He’d have the clipboard, then he would read the script and then he would look up and say to the adult at the door, ‘So can we count on your support?’” she recalled. “It was so cute.”

Apart from an upcoming town hall meeting, she now has the chance to spend some time with her son before the inauguration. With campaigning over, Santos has other more domestic duties to attend to.

“I have to do laundry and I have to clean my house,” she said, laughing. “It’s hard since I’m a single mom so something’s got to drop and, unfortunately, it’s the laundry.”