When Ejaz Butt could not get a job in his field of expertise, like many Canadian immigrants he turned to driving a cab. That was in 1987, and after over 20 years in the taxi business, Butt says he is ready to serve the city that has helped him achieved so much.
“I started from the very grassroots. I have stayed in this city since I arrived in Canada. I have achieved a lot in this city and it’s time to give back,” Butt told CBC Hamilton.
Butt, 62, filed nomination papers on March 31 and is now the seventh candidate to enter the mayoral race. He recognizes that he is a political outsider, but believes that is the edge he has over the likes of Brian McHattie and Fred Eisenberger, who are familiar faces at city hall.
“There are no outsiders so far because everybody is afraid there will be a media trial and personal attacks. I am not worried about these things. I’m ready to take on positive criticism,” he said.
Butt’s appeal goes further than being an interesting candidate – a taxi driver running for mayor. He brings with him several years of political and community organizing experience and a military background.
He was in the army in Pakistan, where he was born, and rose to the level of major. When he arrived in Canada in 1987, he tried to become either a police officer or join the Canadian military. Because was he not a Canadian citizen at the time, he couldn't get on with either. In 1989, he started driving a taxi.
'I started from the very grassroots. I have stayed in this city since I arrived in Canada. I have achieved a lot in this city and it’s time to give back.' - Ejaz Butt, mayoral candidate
“I had to feed my family,” he said. But while driving his taxi, Butt immersed himself in his community. He is the former president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton. He was also the founding president of the Ontario Taxi Workers Union.
“My priority from the beginning was to raise good Canadian citizens and I think I’ve been successful with that,” says Butt. He has two sons now established in their lives. “When you do not have your own vested interests, you can truly look after the people.”
Paying off city debt and stopping wastage of funds is a priority
Butt shared part of his platform and at the top of his list is helping residents keep more of their money and manage the city’s budget better.
“We are already overtaxed, yet essential services have been reduced,” he said.
Butt says if he becomes mayor he will initiate a four-year freeze on taxes. The tax freeze will also extend to new manufacturing companies with over 20 employees setting up shop in the city. He explains it is a priority to get people employed while encouraging industry growth in Hamilton.
A part of managing the city’s funds will be cracking down on people abusing social welfare programs.
“This is a very unpopular decision and the city is currently wasting millions,” he said. “We have to ensure money is spent wisely like you would spend your money.”
Butt also plans to provide relief to senior citizens by exempting anyone over the age of 65 years from paying property taxes on their homes.
He also hopes that the provincial government will fund a Light Right Transit (LRT) for the city. According to Butt, there is a divide between downtown residents who want an LRT system and those who live in the Hamilton mountain area. Without both sides being in support of the LRT it will be hard to convince some residents to pay to build a new transit system without provincial funding.
There are things that have happened in his cab that he can never repeat, Butt says. Yet his experience as a taxi driver has allowed him to learn a lot about people, skills that will help him in politics.
"People talk to me about personal problems and I listen and provide counselling. They talk to me about any subject."