Interviews

Interview with Jim Karygiannis

MBE: Hello Jim, can you please give us a background about yourself and your family?

Jim: I was born in a refugee camp in 1922 while there was a war going on in the Balkans. My mother migrated to Greece and we moved into a refugee camp. I was raised as an only child by my parents who were very hard working but were not well off. The best thing my father ever did for me was move to Canada. I started going to school in downtown Toronto and graduated in industrial engineering. We then got into footwear wholesale business. At first the business was going very well and I decided to stand for my first provincial election. I did not win at first but once had tasted the political life I went right back to door to door campaigning after my loss. I eventually got the nomination for Scarborough Agincourt and looked after the people there for almost 26 years. As years went on things changed and eventually I left the position I had. At the time there was an opportunity to stand municipally for City Councilor Ward 39. As one door closed in my life a new one opened and I was elected. It was a new challenge for my life as I had been an engineer, a business man, a federal Member of Parliament and now municipal member. I have a lovely wife I have been married to for the last 39 years and it is great having a wife at home. I have 5 lovely daughters that are all teachers and two of them are married.



MBE: After getting your engineering degree and starting your business what pushed you towards politics?

Jim:My political career started by chance when I got involved in a movement to depose the leader of Greek town during 1984. The residents at the time believed that the leader was not able to deliver the things he promised and I was approached to take over his position. I eventually decided to run provincially but lost by only 5 points. It worked out well for me as I went on to run from Scarborough Agincourt and won the election there. Politics for me was a lot of “right place right time” along with some right decisions and eventually became a way of life. There are two kinds of politicians. The first kind is the good looking one who is always in the front lines looking smart but does not have much substance. The second kind is the politician to cares about working for people and helping people out even if they are not in the limelight. I consider myself the later type. I am a liberal and have been a part of the liberal party but there were times I went against the party and pushed the envelope when I felt something was wrong. In municipal politics the party is not important it is the people that have elected you that are important and delivering to them is important.



MBE: Jim can you please shed some light on a couple of achievements during your time spent in the local government?

Jim:One of accomplishments would be fundraising I did for the Earthquake that struck Northern Pakistan in 2005. I worked with local Pakistanis who were from the area in raising money. The community had raised a million dollars and as part of the government we matched that donation. We used the funds that had been raised in the reconstruction of school and other infrastructure.

Later on when the Tsunami struck Asia we did the same process and were able to help thousands of people that had been affected.

The other accomplishment in my career was giving recognition to various genocides that had taken place over the years. One such genocide we shed light on was the Armenian Genocide in which over 1.5 million Armenians died.

Another accomplishment in the local government took place during the SARS outbreak in 2003. At the time people were being quarantined for a mandatory 10 days and could not work for two weeks if they had been under quarantine. The time that they were quarantined was counted as unpaid leave and many people who were supporting their families needed this money. I lobbied successfully to get rid of this and the days that they were quarantined became paid leave.

Locally another problem I helped tackle was the abundance of Marijuana grow houses. At the time there was a grow house on every street and along with the help of local and federal police we were able to get rid of them.

I also got to know the local people in the community who had come from all over the world. These people faced problems back home such as the Katrina disaster, the Kashmir earthquake and the Guyana floods. We helped all these people bring support back home.



MBE: We have heard you are an avid traveler. How do you feel about your travels to South East Asia?

Jim:I have been to India and Pakistan many times and I have good friends over there. I believe that Pakistan and India are treasures that are slowly being discovered by the western world. This is mostly due to the Pakistani and Indian Canadians who are pushing for better relations between the countries. The sooner our governments start realizing that we need to create these relations in order to make more business opportunities and make more money the better. Both the United States and Canada have made efforts to have strong ties with China and right next door there is an entire world to be discovered and that’s the South Asian world.



MBE: Jim as you know 90 percent of the population in Canada is landed immigrants. Can you please explain how important these immigrants and the importance of immigration?

Jim:The city of Toronto has very few visible minorities in council. Most of the council is made up of Caucasian. What we need to do is make up the city council to reflect the city of Toronto. More men and women have to be elected from different backgrounds to represent all the different types of people in society. Once this is done people can easily relate to the City Council and call it home. More people need to step up and take an active role in these kinds of positions.

I personally took the responsibility to reach out to ethnic minorities for the liberal party. I travelled around Canada met with various different minorities and tried to understand the specific needs and dreams of these people. I tried to make my office in City Council a center for diversity where people can approach the government and express their concerns and needs.



MBE: Jim there are a couple of specific issues Toronto has been facing that I would like you shed some light on if you can. One of these issues is the almost double increase of Land Transportation Tax (LTT)

Jim:We have young first time buyers along with people experiencing changes in life, these people I believe are the ones that are most vulnerable and should not be hit with this tax. An average young couple is making around $ 120,000 a year and after taxes and living expenses are taken out hardly $60,000 dollars is left. For that couple after purchasing an approximate $ 400,000 dollar house with down payments and mortgage payments for them to be hit with an approximate $5,000 bill for LTT is very hard. That tax should be taken away and the same $5000 can be spent on something like furniture for their new house. This same money saved will help the economy and help create job opportunities. Overall I will be very supportive to get rid of this Land Transportation Tax.



MBE: What are you current main focuses as City Councilor at the moment?

Jim:My main focus at the moment is the creation of the Subway along Sheppard Ave. Another major local issue I am focused on is that the TTC wants to make a bus garage for which they need 19 acres of land. This will have around 250 busses in and out every day and will create great around 1000 job opportunities such as jobs for mechanics. The issue is that the location they want is right next to a school and an senior citizens home. I am against the particular location as it is a busy intersection so I am working for it to be opened somewhere else that doesn’t affect the traffic near the school.



MBE: What are you current main focuses as City Councilor at the moment?

Jim:My main focus at the moment is the creation of the Subway along Sheppard Ave. Another major local issue I am focused on is that the TTC wants to make a bus garage for which they need 19 acres of land. This will have around 250 busses in and out every day and will create great around 1000 job opportunities such as jobs for mechanics. The issue is that the location they want is right next to a school and an senior citizens home. I am against the particular location as it is a busy intersection so I am working for it to be opened somewhere else that doesn’t affect the traffic near the school.



MBE: We at MB have been dealing with small businesses for many years and have noticed an alarming trend that the life span of an average small business is only 2-3 years. This along with the lack of job opportunities has become a major issue. Can you please shed some light on this particular issue being faced by Canadian?

Jim:First we need to attract more businesses and we need to keep those businesses. We need to make sure as a City the amount of red tape we put in front of them and amount of restrictions we apply have to be decreased. We need to have one specific office that deals with businesses and gives solutions to business owners. Currently for a business owner he would have to go to two or three different offices to take care of issues such as how file your GST and where to file your property tax. We need to create a one-stop shop for current and future business owners. This will save not only time but also fees such as administrative fees that business owners have to pay. We need to create attractions for new businesses such as tax rebates which will attract foreigners who are looking to cheaper places to open businesses such as China. One of the projects I worked on personally was to create a tax free zone in Niagara that would attract such businesses.



MBE: What is the one most important rule or principal that motivates you and keeps you going?

Jim:The most difficult moment of my life was resigning from Parliament. It was very tough because I didn’t want to leave but I had to because I wanted to take the next step in my life. I had to be closer to my mother who was a widow at the time and that was more important for me. Being close to family was more important than travelling up and down to Ottawa for 25 years and living out of a suitcase. Now I have the freedom to be home every night and sleep in my own bed and get to spend time with my family and see my mother.



MBE: Apart from politics and family what are some of the hobbies you partake in?

Jim:I used to be a swimmer and had joined the Canadian Olympic swimming team many years ago. Now I spend my free time playing Golf. But the best time for me is the time I get to spend with my family. I like relaxing on my front porch being around my daughters helping them. Apart from this campaigning has always been an interest of mine. I have done 10 campaigns of my own and have been a part of about 35 other people’s campaigns.



MBE: What is your final message for the business community and the people reading this magazine?

Jim:The most important thing I can say is that the color of your skin does not matter and everyone has to respect the people sitting next to you in your daily lives. Once you respect them as an equal it does not matter where he or she comes from and once you have accepted them then you celebrate your differences who you are and eventually embrace the future together. There are four important words: Respect, Accept, Celebrate and Embrace. If you take the first letter of each of those words it spells RACE. We are all part of the human race and if we cut ourselves we all bleed red.