Mayor Rob Ford made the decision (or one could call it a 'mistake') to invite the entire city to come argue with him. You can read his quotes here, or I could just copy and paste them:
"Everyone has five minutes to talk to me personally at our executive committee. I invite the whole city. I don't care if we have to sit there for three days."
Keep those quotes in mind.
I also have to say that the media coverage of this was pathetic. The next day, I thought there'd be tons of articles and opinion pieces, but there was almost nothing. What the heck, media? One great article was from The Torontoist, whose blogger actually stayed for the whole thing. Also, Don Peat of the Toronto Sun and Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star both Tweeted extensively. Actually, their Tweets are better coverage of the meeting than the articles published the next day.
So here's my version of events:
I arrived at City Hall at 9:30 am. I was actually worried I was late, which is hilarious in retrospect. The committee room was packed, as were the two overflow rooms, and the lobby downstairs. There were 302 deputants on the list they gave us. I asked if I could leave and come back or if I had to stay, but got a shrug in response.
The meeting's beginning immediately set the tone for the entire spectacle. Kristyn Wong-Tam suggested moving the meeting into council chambers, which was much larger, but she was shot down. The committee voted to reduce deputants' speaking time from 5 minutes to 3 minutes (so much for the that promise!). Immediately deputants were scrambling to rearrange their carefully timed speeches into 3 minutes, myself included, but we needn't have worried. The next two hours were spent on KPMG representatives and the councillors themselves.
I'm not complaining about that, it was brilliant. The KPMG representatives were clearly out of their comfort zone. I should note that there were two 'sets' of councillors at the meeting. The Executive Committee were obliged to be there, whereas the other councillors were technically 'guests' and they were there voluntarily. Naturally, most of them were against the cuts. After all, no one is going to wait around for 22 hours just to say 'good job' to the Mayor.
The best way I can sum up the KPMG questioning is with this absolutely brilliant interrogation from Adam Vaughan. Please watch it, it's hilarious and amazing. I have had my complaints about Councillor Vaughan in the past, but that was magnificent.
Basically, every time a councillor questioned KPMG, their answers were vague and defensive. Their response was usually that the question was 'out of the scope of this report'. At one point Mayor Ford stopped the proceedings to scold the councillors for not showing enough respect.
Then, after the councillors had had their say, it was on to the deputations!
The view from inside one of the overflow rooms, watching the deputations on a screen.
They voted to allow deputants with small children or disabilities to go first. This prompted the first of many, many moments where Giorgio Mammoliti said something truly appalling and made everyone angry. He suggested that people would pretend to be disabled so as to go first, and said they should be interrogated to make sure they were really disabled. The first deputant, who was disabled, promptly put him in his place, to many cheers.
For the first part of deputations, Mammoliti proved to be among the loudest of councillors. He asked almost every deputant why the federal or provincial government wasn't paying for their service. Hilariously, at one point he started his question by saying "I'm a fan of the arts", and everyone in the room laughed at him. I think my favourite was the deputation from Toronto Arts Council. When he asked the same question, the woman responded patiently that their job was to distribute city money. He asked, incensed, if the federal government didn't give them any money, and she had to explain several times that federal money had nothing to do with their organization.
At 12:30, they were at about number 10, and since I was number 142, I decided to head home and prepare a bit more. I ended up going back after dinner, around 6, this time accompanied by my incredibly patient and supportive mother.
At 10 pm, the Committee voted to run the meeting until every deputant had spoken, clear through the night. They also voted to reduce the time councillors had to ask questions to 1 minute. The vote was actually a tie (which would have meant it lost), but Councillor Shiner walked in late and Ford allowed him to vote in a clear breach of rules. I suppose the Executive Committee didn't care about the question time, since they hardly asked any.
It's hard to explain the atmosphere at that meeting, but it was pretty astonishing. As my mom said, she kept meaning to leave, but it was hard to tear yourself away. The deputants were well spoken. The crowd was energized, and while many were angry, it wasn't a negative energy. There was a lot of cheering, a lot of clapping, a lot of laughing. There was a true sense of community, and it was shared by the councillors who were there voluntarily.
Councillors Janet Davis, Sarah Doucette, Paula Fletcher, Adam Vaughan, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Mike Layton and Gord Perks (who happens to represent my ward) stayed throughout the night and remained active and engaged. Joe Mihevc and Josh Matlow were also there, although I don't know if they stayed the whole time, and Ana Bailao was there, just very quiet. They stayed for 22 hours, despite being treated rudely by the Mayor, having their speaking time cut and probably being damned tired.
The Executive Committee was clearly there for show. The only members who asked any questions were Mammoliti and Michael Thompson. Thompson actually asked fairly reasonable questions, although after a few hours he either left or stopped talking. Mammoliti was incredibly rude and his behaviour was appalling. He had no respect for the speakers or the other councillors, and he clearly just wanted to end the meeting (as he threatened to do, several times).
Meanwhile, the visiting councillors asked questions about the deputants and their ideas. They sincerely thanked people for coming out. They were laughing and chatting and actually engaged in the process.
Sometimes I wonder if Ford and his friends forget that we're living in a media-friendly age. Do they realize people can see them? If I was watching as a voter in one of their wards, I'd be a little annoyed that my representative was not making themselves heard at all.
In fact, I was so annoyed that I used some of my precious three minutes to mention how appalled I was at the proceedings. Of course because of that, I couldn't finish the speech I'd practiced approximately 1000 times in the preceeding 10 hours. But after all that time of watching the Committee try to shut people up, I couldn't stand not saying anything.
What I actually said was, "Mr Ford, are you listening? Because you don't seem to be." And this briefly made me famous on Twitter. I discovered my 5 seconds of Twitter fame thanks to another deputant, who came up to me and told me her Twitter feed had just filled up with people quoting me. I'm glad some Tweets were actually about TAS at least.
On one hand, I didn't go to be combative and 'call out the Mayor' or anything, I just went to have my say about TAS. But on the other hand, it's incredibly rude to carry on a conversation while someone is trying to talk to you, so I'm glad I said something. He did sit back down, by the way.
Councillor Berardinetti is actually on the Executive Committee, and I was quite surprised to get a question from her. It turns out she's quite involved in animal rescue, and she asked a pointed question about TAS' euthanasia numbers. Actually, she didn't get to ask because I cut her off, which I didn't notice until I saw the video later. Sorry, Councillor Berardinetti! Anyway, it was a good question because I got to address those numbers and explain how they can be misconstrued.
It was a very interesting time. Their attempts to shut people up were so incredibly blatant, and they obviously didn't listen to a single deputation (well, except that one that supported them). Yet they made a mistake. They brought all of their opposition together and gave them a slumber party and a million reasons to fight against them. It's like they want people to organize against them.
They cut the speaking time to 3 minutes. They cut the councillors' question time to 1 minute. They made us wait in tiny rooms rather than council chambers. They made the meeting go through the night, so working families couldn't stay. They ignored all motions made by visiting councillors.
And yet, 168 people still spoke. All those people waited to have their say.
At the end, Councillor Mammoliti made a speech about how he was disappointed at the deputants' behaviour and how they didn't show respect for the process, to which Mayor Ford said "Great speech, Councillor". Yeah, it was a great speech, for galvanizing people to oppose you.
I know they didn't listen to a thing we said, but that's okay. A lot of people were listening, and a lot of people are now angry and motivated. I'm sure that's not what they were aiming for, but that's what they got.
And to finish up this incredibly long post, some of my favourite moments:
- People got very creative. There was a singing deputation, along with a poem, a puppet presentation and a story about a house called Toronto.
- In his opening speech, Ford talked about separating the 'must haves' from the 'nice to haves'. Councillor Davis had a great deal of fun with that throughout the night. After a presentation about dental care for low-income families, she asked, "Do you think teeth are nice to have?"
- There were many entertaining references to Margaret Atwood (including buttons). After the Toronto Arts Council presentation, Adam Vaughan asked, "Do you fund Margaret Atwood's work?"
- There were a pair of crossing guard presentations, and they were fantastic. They explained that if there is no crossing guard at certain intersections, you have to post a police officer. After hearing that crossing guards start at $10.25/hour, Wong Tam (I think) asks, "Do you think police would get paid more than $10.25 an hour?" The guards, two senior citizens, were very amused.
- Jeff Melanson is the mayor's hand-picked arts advisor, and he actually made a deputation against arts cuts that was very well reasoned and sensible.
- Not exactly a 'favourite' moment, but very telling - Mayor Ford left the meeting for an hour to do a TSN interview about his football picks.
It kind of feels like battle lines are being drawn, doesn't it?
The next few months are going to be very interesting.
(And tomorrow, back to animal posts, promise!)