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Neethan Shan shakes voter Dexter's (no last name given) hand after putting a sign on his lawn in Ward 42 in the Morningside and Finch area in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Neethan Shan shakes voter Dexter's (no last name given) hand after putting a sign on his lawn in Ward 42 in the Morningside and Finch area in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

The people who can bring real change to Toronto Add to ...

Rob Ford is wrong. The trouble with city councillors isn't that they are too numerous, too wasteful with taxpayers' money or too fond of their (actually very modest) perks. The trouble is that many of them have simply been around for too long.

Incumbent councillors become so entrenched that they stay in the job for years, even decades. Council is too old, too white and too set in its ways. Walking into the council chamber is like entering an isolated Appalachian valley, inbred and out of touch with the world outside.

Monday's election offers a rare chance to bring in a new generation of councillors with fresh ideas. While a wholesale changeover on council is unlikely - see the power of incumbency, above - nine incumbents decided not to run again. Among them were several veterans of more than 20 years such as Michael Walker, Brian Ashton and Case Ootes. In a few other wards, incumbents are in a tough fight for re-election.

That means we could have a dozen or more new faces on council. Hurrah for that. These newcomers would add a jolt of new life and intelligence to council debates.

Start with Mohamed Dhanani in Ward 26 Don Valley West. He lost to former Conservative MPP John Parker by 214 votes in 2006 but is back for another go. He came to Canada with his parents at the age of five and spent part of his youth in the local immigrant enclave of Flemingdon Park.

After studying at Yale, he went on to a career as a management consultant, pharmacy owner, health-care official and Queen's Park adviser. He wants to step up efforts to make sure immigrants in Flemingdon Park and its neighbour, Thorncliffe Park, succeed.

But after growing up in a thrifty, hard-pressed household, he also thinks the city needs to manage its money better. An Ismaili Muslim, he would be the first Muslim on council if he were elected on Monday. "You need dynamite councillors as much as you need a dynamite mayor," he says. He would be one.

Another man to watch is Neethan Shan in Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River. He is up against Raymond Cho, who has been in local politics since 1991 and is well past his best-before date.

A Tamil in a ward with a big Tamil population, Mr. Shan has been a teacher, public school trustee and youth worker. He has been active in Malvern, the often-troubled neighbourhood that has struggled with crime. His work has brought him a number of race-relations and community-service awards. He is 31. He wants to work for better transit in his area and fight to overcome Malvern's sketchy image. "People are looking for change," he says. He could help bring it.

On the downtown west side, three young and promising candidates are battling it out for the Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina seat vacated by Joe Pantalone when he decided to run for mayor. Karen Sun, community activist and environmentalist, and Mike Layton, son of federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, are the most prominent, but Sean McCormick deserves a look, too. An articulate former sportscaster who organized a successful music festival in the neighbourhood, he decided to enter politics because, like many Torontonians, he was frustrated by a feeling that taxes were rising and services declining.

Several other candidates around the city could help bring change to council if elected: outspoken school trustee John Matlow in Ward 22 St. Paul's; former school board chair John Campbell, up against best-before Gloria Lindsay Luby in Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre; former policeman and Queen's Park aide Ken Chan in Ward 27 Toronto-Centre Rosedale, Kyle Rae's old district; broadcaster Liz West, who is taking on the ranty Paula Fletcher in Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth; and Jennifer Wood, a bank lawyer who is contesting the Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth seat vacated by Mr. Ootes.

Mr. Ford only promises change. These folks might actually help deliver it.

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Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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