Saturday, August 6, 2011

Slumber Party at City Hall

Last Thursday, the Executive Committee of Toronto City Council met to discuss the results of the KPMG report, part of the Core Service Review. That report basically proposed mutilating every service this city offers, despite the minimum research they put into their findings.
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.
Naturally, I went down there to defend TAS, especially since I'd been out of town for the very important Licensing & Standards committee meeting (luckily we were well represented there!). I ended up being in and out of City Hall for 18 hours, and was actually in the building for 7 of those hours. This is going to be a very long blog post because I have a lot to say about this meeting.
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.
Once we'd returned, we settled in for the long haul. By 6, when they broke for dinner, they were at Speaker 43. There were still 300 signed up.
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.
I ran into Gord Perks in the hallway and said, "Hello Councillor Perks". He immediately turned around and said, "No, it's Gord! How are you doing?" When I mentioned I was in his ward, he demanded to know where (the man knows his ward inside out). He regularly made trips to the overflow rooms to bring them jugs of water and chat with people waiting to speak. I was very proud to have him as my councillor.
This is my favourite photo from the meeting. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam gives Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti a fantastic look. It just begs for a caption.
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).
 Mayor Ford didn't ask a single question about people's speeches. Twice he spoke to say something about football, and once he made a snide comment about blaming things on Diefenbaker, since people had the audacity to blame Mike Harris (who was in power 10 years ago, not 50, a substantial difference). You can see his comment here.

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.
I ended up being interviewed by both CTV (above) and 680 News. I had no idea if they aired, but friends have told me they saw the TV interview so I guess one of them did. I think the 680 interviewer was a bit taken aback, because she interviewed me right after they announced they were going through the night, and I was, shall we say, a little annoyed.
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.
I finally spoke at about 1:45 AM. By that point, many deputants weren't showing up to speak, probably because they had to get home to their families or jobs. I'm sure that's what they were hoping for, that people would go home without speaking, but there was actually still a large crowd at 2 in the morning. The room and the two overflow rooms were still full of people. Toronto wanted to have their say!
As I was speaking, Mayor Ford and Councillor Mammoliti got up and strolled over to have their own conversation. I'd been waiting over 16 hours, I'd whittled my speech down to three minutes, and they were just chatting away while I was speaking. I ran out of patience.
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.
My mom took this photo of them right after I asked him to listen.
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.
 Since no one had been talking about TAS, I was worried there'd be no questions, but thankfully I got two. Councillor Doucette was clearly on our side as she asked about privatizing, and talked about how the Berger-Blanc video had turned her stomach. I'm glad she asked, because I got to finish my thought from when I'd been cut off by Mayor Ford.
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.
 After speaking, I stayed until about 4 AM, at which point I couldn't stay awake any longer, so I threw in the towel and went home. The meeting actually ended around 8 AM the next day.

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. 
 There were so many great moments, but this blog post is long enough already. I really encourage you to read the Torontoist's live blog, it covers everything. Also, the blog Ford For Toronto is posting a video of a deputation each day in August. Check it out!
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!)


Social Mange said...

Thank you! I was very curious as to what it was like from a deputant's point of view, thank you very much for setting it out. I am SO unimpressed by the behaviour of Rob Ford and his sycophants.

Social Mange said...

When is Red Bull going to cough up some cash for all the MSM references it got? The MSM articles read like product placement.

Psst, Red can donate to TAS, hint, hint.

Elizabeth said...

I watched a few hours of the deputations on line, it was great to see how some city councellors were stepping up to make sure that the people were heard.
Maybe a little of what people said will sink into whatever brain our current mayor has.
Congrats on the article in the Metro this morning. :)

Caroline said...

Great job Laura, I think you have real guts and moxy and stamina for hanging out all night at the meeting with the mayor!