A majority of Toronto residents disapprove of the renaming of Yonge-Dundas Square to Sankofa Square, according to a new poll released by Liaison Strategies.

The latest poll starkly contrasts the Toronto City Council’s decision, revealing that 72% of Toronto residents disapprove of the renaming.

This move by the council has already led to significant backlash, including the resignation of Mike Fenton, the chair of the square’s management board, over concerns about the rushed process and lack of public involvement.

An earlier survey by Liaison in October indicated a 54% approval rate among residents for the Dundas name change. However, this support declined to 42% once respondents were informed about the financial implications. The estimated expense for renaming the street and all associated landmarks is projected to reach a staggering $12.7 million, as outlined in a report by the city manager.

“The question was always going to be, though, what would Dundas Street be renamed to? There is slim support though for renaming Yonge-Dundas to Sankofa,” said David Valentin, principal of Liaison Strategies, according to CityNews.

In his resignation letter, Mike Fenton criticized the naming process for its lack of a consistent, public review and disjointed approach.

Councillor Chris Moise, who proposed the Sankofa name, found Fenton’s resignation surprising and defended the last-minute timing of his motion due to scheduling issues. However, the word Sankofa is linked to a Ghanaian tribe with connections to the slave trade themselves.

The name Sankofa means “to go back and get it.” The word has many interpretations but primarily signifies that modern and future generations can learn from the wisdom of the past.

Adding to the complexity, Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, a member of the renaming advisory committee and former City of Toronto director of diversity management, expressed a lack of confidence in the process, saying that she feels that Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow interfered in the process by demanding a single choice from the council, instead of offering a consultation with the public.  

Despite Mayor Chow’s heavy support and the unanimous backing from the review committee, the renaming has been mired in controversy.

The original proposal to rename Dundas Street was slated for a public presentation in the fall, ahead of a final decision by the city council in 2024. However, the plan encountered resistance as some council members reversed their support, considering the enormous financial burden. 

Even Josh Matlow, who voted in favour of the renaming, said that the situation was handled very poorly and was not an example of good governance.

Renaming the entire 23-kilometre stretch of Dundas Street was estimated to cost billions, a daunting figure given the city’s budget constraints.

Moreover, there was pushback from advocates who want the Dundas name to remain, such as one of the namesake’s descendants, who challenged the portrayal of his historical role in the delay of abolition, arguing that his legacy had been unfairly represented.

In response to these challenges, a compromise emerged to focus on renaming Yonge-Dundas Square instead of the entire street. This compromise, which shifted the renaming efforts solely to the square, gained unanimous support from the review committee just a day before the proposal was put forward.

The revised proposal, estimated to incur a cost of approximately $700,000 for the city, was successfully passed, with Councillor Moise’s motion receiving strong support in a 19-to-2 vote.

The poll, however, revealed that support may not be so strong among Toronto citizens. The poll surveyed 831 residents with a margin of error of 3.39%.

While the poll indicates a 72% opposition to the renaming of Yonge-Dundas Square to Sankofa, it interestingly contrasts with Mayor Olivia Chow’s approval ratings, where 71% of the respondents express satisfaction with her performance as Mayor.

The poll also revealed how respondents would vote in a federal election if it were held today. Liberal supporters took the lead, flanked by Conservatives and NDP, at 38%, 32%, and 22%, respectively. The rest of the respondents would vote for the Green Party or PPC.

The poll also revealed where respondents lived. The most support for the renaming came from Downtown Toronto, at 17%.