Magda Berkovits Emphasizes Sense of Community
Ward 10 candidate wants to take the red tape out of government dealings.
For Ward 10 candidate Magda Berkovits, York Centre could do well to see some changes.
Indeed, one of the main highlights of her platform is transportation. “This area is very gridlocked,” she says, referring to the vicinity surrounding York Centre. “One of the things I propose to do is connect the subway between Downsview station and Yonge station [at Sheppard]. It makes infinite sense, and nobody’s even speaking about it. It just makes [the subway system] a perfect loop, not just for the people of York Centre, but for all of Toronto.”
Refreshingly, another big issue for Berkovits is Downsview Park, the giant expanse of land along Dufferin between Finch and Sheppard. Aside from having housed several outdoor concerts, it essentially serves as a seemingly useless eyesore. “[The park] is something we should leave behind to our children and grandchildren,” says Berkovits. “It could be a great park just like Hyde Park is in London, and Millennium Park in Chicago. We should make it an actual park and there should be help from federal, provincial and municipal governments. They actually have a fundraising arm, but they aren’t allowing them to function as much. We all want to support this park.”
Garbage is another contentious issue, as we perpetually try to keep track of which waste product goes in which bin. “It’s certainly very relevant,” says Berkovits. “I’m constantly dreading the three garbage containers you have to be so careful to put the right garbage in the right containers or else they won’t pick it up. I have an 88-year-old mother who can’t cope with this, so my brother comes to pick up the garbage and sort it for her. There’s been talk about having the trash sorted at the garbage site, some of it being incinerated safely, others recycles. But it shouldn’t be put on the citizens, because some of us are up to it, but others just aren’t.”
There is a large Jewish community in Ward 10, and according to Berkovits, having a united, strong Jewish community is of the utmost importance. “In terms of municipal issues,” she says, “there are over 40 synagogues in York Centre, which is so beautiful we are diverse and distinct and united, but there should be more recognition of that. There should never be a question of having an election on a Jewish holiday, even a minor one. There should be greater sensitivity.”
As well, the fact that Berkovits’s parents are Holocaust survivors undoubtedly shapes the way she sees the world, and the way she would likely implement her platform. “I have no grandparents, and it is my mother who always worries about us being safe it’s a very fearful existence, one you impart to your children,” she explains. “I have to reassure [my mother] all the time that this isn’t going to happen again, this is Canada, but in her own mind, things repeat themselves, they go in cycles. This is why we’re always more fearful, anxious to please. Children of Holocaust survivors are typically higher achievers because we have something to prove, that we deserve to be in this country. Everything was taken away from them, and this is something you carry with you.”
“It makes you more cognizant of your surroundings,” she continues. “So you are more willing to go the extra step to prove your worthiness somehow.”
Berkovits’s connection with her Judaism does not stop there, however. “I went on my honeymoon to Israel,” she says. “It was an amazing trip, I’ll never forget that. My sister-in-law still lives there. Her daughter has four sons, all went through the army, and they are tough as nails, I am so proud of them. Israelis are tough, and they need to be. I am hoping to go again. You just feel so at peace there. You don’t feel the violence when you’re there. It’s like they really know what’s important, they have it figured out.”
“We worry about things that we shouldn’t,” she continues, “and they have their priorities straight, you don’t feel any of the fear over there. It’s our home. I’m Hungarian, but truly, root-wise, Israel is my home.”
One thing Berkovits admits, however, is that she’s not very good at promoting herself. “It has never been my forte,” she says. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. “For me,” she says, “it’s the issues that matter, and taking care of people. I think that’s the most important thing. If I’m elected, you will have the best advocate you can have.”
In the 1980’s, before entering politics, Berkovits actually managed a constituency office. “It was an eye opener, how much good you can do for others,” she says. “Not for yourself, but as an anonymous little person, you can make such a difference in the lives of others. We dealt with things like immigration, housing, welfare, and when you call on behalf of that person and get answers for them, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
“That’s why I’m running,” she says. “To be a better service, and to help my fellow people. Other MPs might say ‘you don’t belong in my area, call this number, etc.’ But if you come to me, I will help you, I will follow through and make sure you are heard.”
How refreshing to speak to a candidate so genuinely passionate about helping others, about Israel, and about what truly matters to the public. For most of us, dealing even with minor government issues can be frustrating, but for Berkovits, it doesn’t have to be.
“That’s the beauty of it,” she says. “You can cut through red tape. That would be my role.”