Reigning power brokers of comedy in Toronto

It’s been a while since I was able to work for CNN. In fact, since the network parted ways with Anthony Bourdain, I haven’t been asked to work for the network again. But when you’re a comedian, you have to keep playing, and this time I found myself back where I started—staring down the barrel of Canadian immigration.

I’ve lived in Canada for the past nine years, first in Toronto and then Calgary. I’ve now lived in Vancouver, Nova Scotia, and for the past three years, in Toronto, and it’s been an eye-opening experience as I’ve come to see and understand how other people view me.

There are a lot of good reasons for Canadians to be enamored with me. Like most comedic writers, I’m a transplanted New Yorker: I took an epic, ninth-grade pizza class that included a zombie uprising that had the likes of Archie Bunker—kind of like me—confused. Or I had a horrible college roommate who paid more attention to his dog than he did to me, thanks to my roommate failing to get a job. But my biggest reason for being at home is my immigration status. While no one seems to blame me for either my brother’s or my sister’s lazy moral compass, I’m here, and my family lives in that immigration category. And honestly, after getting to know Canada better—the one week I spent in Vancouver—I’ve been able to appreciate what an easy home in a foreign country Toronto is. It’s a vibrant cosmopolitan city that has snagged international recognition as a top tourist destination for 2013 and 2014.

However, being a comedian there hasn’t always been a lot of stand-up talent at the fringes of the city’s comedy scene, or a point-of-view comedy center like Winnipeg and Toronto. The truth is, Toronto’s housing prices, rents, and real estate market is a real issue in the city—one that puts affordable housing in the spotlight. Especially for those working in the creative industry, like me, or those in an everyday role like physical therapy or hourly work. People are fortunate to have access to rent-controlled units, but there are far too many who still live in wheelchairs or who can’t live at home with their families, waiting in line for housing.

But this isn’t just a Toronto issue. From the East Coast to the West Coast and every corner of the country, affordable housing is an issue for all Canadians. And at my new location, I’ve gotten to witness firsthand the evolution of social housing in Toronto. Under Mayor Rob Ford, there’s been a massive transformation in the use of public land with more co-housing and affordable housing. So when I first arrived in the city in 2004, I didn’t see anything wrong with the city growing its middle class by providing affordable housing. But I now see this as one of the factors pushing the majority of Canadians to move to cities like Calgary. This, to me, is the most important part of being Canadian: its egalitarian spirit. But despite having far more affordable housing than other U.S. cities, the situation isn’t changing very quickly. After being in and out of government for nine years, I still feel like there’s a lot of work to be done.

What a lot of cities in the United States can learn from Toronto’s housing problem is the reality that you can’t control your housing—or your success, for that matter. There are cities all over the world where you can walk to school or put your kids in after school programs. Toronto and Vancouver are full of artists and creative types who can’t afford to live anywhere else but in the downtown core. And they need to balance these housing challenges with the need to keep the local economy strong and support small businesses—the ones who keep the local economy going. I couldn’t agree more with Mayor Ford’s vision to protect the private housing market while allowing people in all kinds of jobs to live in the city. But the reality is—and I’m a funny Canadian—there’s nothing funny about the challenges of homelessness, the inability to support your family, and the ongoing effects of high housing prices on the middle class.

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