Section 37, Affordable Housing, and Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

It’s a constant source of rage and despair for me to see glass condos and “luxury townhomes” going up around town while the affordable housing waitlist stretches to record numbers. (161,266 people total [PDF] as of January, in case you were wondering.) And, as you know, Bob, since all those new developments mean more Section 37 funds,

—oh, what’s Section 37? Basically, the zoning rules say what kind of stuff you’re allowed to build, and if they say you can only build a tower 6 storeys high, and the developer wants to build one 12 storeys high, Section 37 of the Planning Act says they have to pay some extra money that offsets the extra load on local infrastructure, or goes to benefit the community.* Like, streetscaping, or a daycare, or something.

It’s not a tax because that’s not allowed; the money doesn’t go into some citywide pot because that would make it a tax**; the exact amount, and the nature of the benefit, gets worked out with the city councillor for each development. Anyway

I naturally wondered if we couldn’t kill two birds with one stone and use Section 37 money for affordable housing. It’s totally an approved use. They can build it elsewhere in the neighbourhood, or they can set aside units in their condo. Because the current rules about it are kind of restrictive, the Planning & Growth Management Committee asked the city planners to revise them so it’s easier to do.*** And today, yes, today, they are talking about it at the committee meeting!!!****

I went to a very interesting open house on this back in November, where the planners explained the upcoming changes. You can read the report yourself to see what bits they’ve added (bolded here). From the list of possible incentives:

i. purpose built rental housing with mid-range or affordable rents, land for housing, affordable ownership housing, or, at the discretion of the owner, cash-in-lieu of affordable rental or ownership units or land;
j. a maximum of 20 individual affordable rental units, located in a registered condominium, provided the units are owned and operated as rental housing by a registered non-profit housing provider satisfactory to the City and meet established criteria, including securing through an agreement the maintenance of affordable rents for at least 25 years and rental tenure for at least 50 years. Such units will be deemed to be rental housing notwithstanding the definition of rental housing that would otherwise exclude condominium-registered units.

(However, after public consultation they’ve decided to remove the cap on rental units, and take another look at the 25- and 50-year requirements (some people think that’s too long; others, not long enough). None of this is written in stone yet.)

So, what’s the problem here? Why aren’t we all jumping for joy? What are some of the possible drawbacks of this approach?

The York Quay Neighbourhood Association thinks that “the affordable housing shortage in Toronto is so acute that we foresee all future Sec. 37 funds flowing towards this desperate need” (PDF), which is painfully adorable, you just want to ruffle their hair. WHO’S A GOOD CONCERNED CITIZEN. YOU. YES YOU ARE. GO FETCH. As a planner present at the open house told me, affordable housing, which calls up stereotypes of bedbug-ridden welfare scroungers bringing down property values, is “poison” to developers. The councillor has to push for it, and the developer has to agree to it, and because it’s something negotiated rather than mandated, you can’t make either of them do any particular thing. Developers make less money if they have it on-site, and they think it’ll bring down the property value if it’s built off-site. Councillors are inclined to side with developers as well; nobody wants to be seen as unfriendly to business. There are a few councillors who consistently negotiate for more housing in their wards (Vaughan, Wong-Tam), but that is entirely because they feel like it. There is no way to make, say, Doug Ford get a developer to opt for affordable housing rather than daycare.

(Can’t we make rules about this stuff? you might ask. Short answer: it’s called “conditional zoning” and “inclusionary zoning” and it’s up to the province, which has taken absolutely no action on it despite the fact that they’re theoretically in favour of it and people do keep putting forward motions and such. Write your MPP.)

Similarly, you can’t say how many units have to be set aside. Nor, it seems, can you add a clause saying “not all of the crappiest units, either”. That all is settled on a building-to-building basis. There’s nothing keeping anyone from setting aside a handful of terrible condo units for the non-profit and calling it a day. It’s too scattershot an approach to help the vast numbers of people who are inadequately housed.

The even deeper problem, which City staff are totally not rushing to point out, is that “affordable”, as the city planners are using it here, doesn’t actually mean, you know, affordable. Most of us hear “affordable housing” and think something like 30% of gross income, TCHC waitlist, bedbugs, etc. LOL NO. Note the inclusion of “mid-range” rent and “affordable ownership”***** in the guidelines. And “affordable ownership” doesn’t mean, like, those programs at Regent Park. “Affordable ownership”, as we were told at that meeting, means average sale price. Dear everyone, do you think the average Toronto home’s sale price is affordable?******

And lest you think I’m just pulling shit out of my ass, ACTO (Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario), who are slightly more in touch with reality than the YQNA, also point this out in their letter (PDF). They also note that over the past sixteen years, only 1,589 “affordable” units have been secured as rental housing. And over half of those were “mid-range” rent rather than, you know, actually affordable. If you think that slightly expanded guidelines will dramatically change that…I’ve got a bridge to sell you. They’re not gonna make a dent in the affordable housing waitlist, which is sitting at about 87,300 applications.

This is the main problem with using a planning tool never intended for the purpose to secure, you know, a basic fucking human right: case-by-case negotiations relying on individual goodwill (but mostly capitalism) will never, ever, ever replace legislation, policy, and investment in infrastructure. Like, ever.


* If you’re wondering how a community benefit takes the weight off local infrastructure, the Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations feels your pain (PDF).

** It would be wonderful if all city councillors understood this but they don’t.

*** They mentioned two cases where condo units were set aside for affordable housing:

  • The Charlie, a condo near King and Spadina, where four units throughout the building are to be owned and operated by Kehilla, a Jewish affordable housing nonprofit

  • Artscape Triangle Lofts in Liberty Village, where 20 of the live/work artist spaces are rentals and the rest for sale

Such cases didn’t count as Section 37 benefits at the time, but under the new rules, they would. This would ideally allow more affordable housing to be created.

**** Ideally I would have finished this post in, like, November, but ehhhhhhhhhhh~

***** Who the hell is the affordable ownership lobby? Who’s in their pocket? I really want to know.

****** If your answer is “yes”, 1. fuck you and 2. shouldn’t you be reading Toronto Life?

Diary of a councilspotter: Plastic bags

Wednesday, June 6, City Council meeting 24

Recap of this morning:

A bunch of councillors throwing hissy fits over the injustice of paying 5¢ for a plastic bag in a perfect microcosm of how conservative governments dismantle themselves by becoming so inefficient they’re not worth having around.

How this got started:

Berardinetti proposed having businesses donate the proceeds from the plastic bag fee to suitable groups, like environmental organizations.

This wasn’t a total dick move, so other people on the Executive Committee added a bit about rescinding the fee altogether.

(So wait, you may say. Are they proposing to get rid of the fee and donating the profits from the fee, in the same motion? Isn’t that kind of confusing? Yes, yes it is.)

And then Perruzza floated the idea of going in the other direction and banning plastic bags (as some cities have done), which made everyone freak the fuck out.

Ridonkulous arguments floated so far:

  • Scrapping the bag fee kills jobs at plastic recycling plants (Del Grande)
  • Dog poop!!1!!11 (Lindsay Luby)
  • If fee proceeds are donated to charity, people will buy EVEN MORE bags (Shiner)
  • Grocery stores aren’t giving out paper bags, so… (Di Giorgio?)
  • The bag fee is bankrupting corner stores and enriching big chains like Loblaws

As I type, the debate is still going on. FUCK EVERYTHING I’M GOING OUTSIDE.

Too many dicks on the dancefloor

This is actually footage from a #TOpoli pub night

#TOpoli, we need to talk. This has been bothering me for a while now, and since it’s International Women’s Day I figure I may as well take this occasion to point out that our burgeoning scene is one big white dudefest. And white dudefests suck. But luckily there are small, practical things we can do to fix this, which is good, because I would hate to totally fucking snap and destroy you all with the burning rage of a thousand Nunziatas.

Continue reading Too many dicks on the dancefloor

Diary of a councilspotter: In which the politicians take over City Hall

Monday, March 5, City Council meeting 19

The Story So Far:

  • January 17, 2012: In an unprecedented victory, left-wing and centrist councillors get together and vote to reverse most of Ford’s proposed budget cuts. Getting cocky, they think about bringing back Transit City, the previous mayor’s transit plan that Ford strongly opposes.

  • February 8, 2012: At a special council meeting, TTC chair and (up till now) Ford loyalist Karen Stintz spearheads a motion to basically reinstate Transit City, which passes with a decent majority. Team Ford would fire Stintz if they could, but the rules say they can’t.

  • February 21, 2012: Five Ford-friendly members of the TTC board call a special meeting and fire the TTC general manager Gary Webster instead. This is a bad move, and the other four councillors on the board are pissed.

  • March 5, 2012: Council votes to dissolve the TTC board and put together a new one, which happens to include the minority of TTC board members who voted not to fire Webster (this includes Stintz), plus some centrist and left-wing councillors. Council then votes Stintz back in as TTC chair.

For those keeping track at home, this is the third failed attempt by Team Ford to get back at Stintz for Transit City. But there’s more: there’s another special council meeting on the 21st where they’ll be making decisions about transit on Sheppard. (The mayor and others want subways; the plan calls for light rail.)

The title of the post refers to what Cllr Giorgio Mammoliti actually said at some point yesterday. Yes, that apparently came out of his mouth with no irony. It’s only a slightly more fucking ridiculous version of what Cllr Denzil Minnan-Wong and Cllr Michael Thompson have said at various points in the past few months: they believe transit should be depoliticized. Which, I mean, I live and die by “the personal is political”, so you can guess how I feel about that. It’s horrible because everything is fucking political, and “depoliticize” basically just means “pretend it’s not political” or “our politics don’t count as politics”, which is bullshit—

—and if it’s not that, it’s some kind of libertarian shit, like, the government shouldn’t be in this business, which is also bullshit. Doug Ford said as much during last Sunday’s radio show when he was spouting off about how “taxes are evil” (yes, another thing that actually crawled out of someone’s mouth)—he said the government should be providing services, not creating jobs (damn the economy!). But apparently those services don’t even include transit. These people’s ideal government is basically a glorified utility company. No wonder they lack long-term vision.

And I realize the entire point of this enterprise is to get inside government and tear it down but I can’t help remembering another feminist soundbite: “Don’t like abortions? Don’t have one.”

Don’t like politics?

DON’T. FUCKING. BECOME. A. POLITICIAN.

Diary of a councilspotter: The roof over our heads

Friday, February 17, Executive Committee Meeting 17

Had to miss the first half of the special Executive Committee meeting on TCHC for a meeting with an Ontario Works caseworker so she could verify I’m broke and gainfully unemployed enough. This one’s new. She asked what I did my degree in; I told her “Philosophy” and she laughed in my face. Hey, I’d be laughing if I were her, too.

When I got there they were a few dozen deputations in. The crowd was the usual housing activists and scattering of cranks, plus a good contingent of regular folks who rarely go to these things, many clearly here out of desperation—unpracticed in public speaking, with choked-up voices and often halting speech. It takes a lot of bravery to go down to City Hall and beg a bunch of callous old guys not to sell your house out from under you.

—Sorry. It’s hard for me not to go all Joe Fiorito on this. But I think that if you were serious about eradicating poverty here in Toronto, a solid affordable housing strategy would be the place to start, and it’s absolutely fucking infuriating that a gang of small-government ideologues with six-figure salaries who don’t give a shit about poverty are the ones managing the crisis.

Crisis, eh?

As of December 2011, there’s a record-breaking 82, 138 households on the affordable housing waitlist (PDF). The list is growing by about 7.5% each year, but they house only 4–4.5%. We’re in this situation because—stay with me here—market rent housing is unaffordable (especially for the working poor and people on social assistance), which drives up demand for affordable housing; but more people want to move in than are moving out, because market rent is unaffordable.

What we really need is to drastically increase the amount of affordable housing available. Selling off property as a stopgap measure—in effect, cannibalizing TCHC’s own assets for one-time funds—would be moving backwards. So what are some things we can do? I thought of a few:

  1. Enter into partnerships with other organizations, like co-ops, which would take on some of the cost (and potentially develop into affordable housing independent of TCHC).

  2. Provide rent subsidies to people currently living in market rent housing, which Team Ford seems to favour. I’m not sure whether this would be more or less cost-effective.

  3. Use Section 37 funds, which developers pay in exchange for getting to put more units in their buildings, to subsidize a percentage of units in new developments. Right now the money goes towards neighbourhood improvements, but (I think) there’s no reason why it can’t be repurposed. Recently Habitat for Humanity has proposed acting as a go-between.

I favour door #3, because it a) actually creates more housing stock, b) takes advantage of the current condo building boom, and c) uses money we’re already getting, rather than some hypothetical amount the province or the feds should really cough up and totally won’t. But I’m sure TCHC will need to rely on multiple strategies to get out of the hole.

The political option

So rookie councillor Ana Bailão, chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, offered the mayor a compromise: sell only some of the properties, the ones which are vacant and unliveable, and establish a working group to report back this fall on better solutions. Given that the majority of Council would be behind her, Ford had no other reasonable choice. At the meeting, this pissed off deputy mayor Doug Holyday, who loosed one of his spittle-flecked old man rants on how Bailão’s compromise was “the political option”, as opposed to selling all 675 properties right away, that being “the business option”.

Protip, Holyday: that option’s “political” too. It’s all fucking political! The whole principle of “running the city like a business” is a political ideology. In practice it means whatever the fuck you want it to mean—as we saw during the budget process where Team Ford argued strenuously for businesslike practices like selling off assets without consideration for the revenue they brought in, and during the transit debate when they rejected the most efficient and economical option in favour of a prohibitively expensive subway dream.

No one else on Executive Committee bought Holyday’s argument either, voting for Bailão’s plan in the end. Unfortunately it probably just bought us some time. So I’m thinking about one of the deputants I saw—a mother flanked by her two kids, sitting on the bench outside the library nervously practicing her deputation—and worrying. What can you do? Where can you go when nobody gives a fuck?

You can now get back to fussing about Gary Webster. Good night, and good fucking luck.

Diary of a councilspotter: They can’t all be golden

Monday, February 13, Executive Committee meeting 16

That controversial TCHC item got punted to a special meeting on Friday, so today’s agenda isn’t very interesting aside from the presentation of the Chong report. It’s hard to work up much excitement for development charges by-laws. Luckily many of the Scoobies are here too, including new guy @oytamarind, and we’re occupying ourselves by surreptitiously passing out City Hall-themed valentines to various councillors, journos, and staffers.

(We’re in the caf when we spot Doug Holyday eating his lunch on the other side of the room and start double-dog-daring each other to go up and give him a couple of valentines. I finally take one for the team, because I broke down in tears in front of the guy at my last deputation and I figure it’s all uphill from there. Adorably, he assumes the Janet Davis one is actually from Janet Davis, because she later says he thanked her for it.

I offer Mary “Best Hair On Council” Fragedakis a Denzil Minnan-Wong valentine and she shoots me down. Ice cold, lady. Ice cold.)

The Chong report is—pardon the term—irrelevant after last week’s transit vote, but I figure the presentation and question period have got to be entertaining, and they are. I’ll say this for Chong, he did the job he was hired to do, and he’s a lively speaker. The report itself is a masterful exercise in dressing up bullshit to fool the uninformed; it reminds me of creationist literature that attempts to prove that the earth is six thousand years old. Gord Perks compares it to promises of pigs flying. At any rate you can only make it look reasonable with a delicate balance of sloppy and outdated data, selective statistics, out-of-context numbers, and pure mendacity. Notably, the report doesn’t offer any actual recommendations, because 1) who wants to sign their name to that shit? and 2) it has to support whatever Team Ford wants it to. It drives Gord Perks and especially Adam Vaughan up a wall—I swear if we weren’t there to make sarcastic asides to, he’d seriously lose it.

(A little digression on Why We Can’t Have Nice Things Subways:

  1. They’re really fucking expensive to build and nobody can pay for them
  2. They want to put them in areas that basically will not be dense enough to run profitably in our lifetimes.

And the niceness of subways cannot override those facts. Shut up and get on the LRT.)

In the end ExComm votes to establish a panel to look into subways, which—you might recall—council already voted to do. Does this mean they’re supporting the status quo? LOL NO, they voted for an entirely redundant second subways panel, which will totally never get past council, so really we could have all gone home and jerked off for four hours and we’d have the same result. It’s just a last noisy crying jag in the extended tantrum Team Ford have been throwing as their grip on power erodes.

There’s still some items to go, but I’m at that point of tiredness and boredom where I’m entertaining myself by Google image searching Mike Del Grande and laughing inwardly (Edit: apparently not so inwardly) how he looks like a hungover owl in like every single photo. Which is a pretty pathetic point to be at, even for a council creeper, so I pack up my computer and head home.

What the flying fuck happened yesterday?

Let’s do this TUMBLR STYLE.

  • So they kicked off the Extra Special Surprise Transit Meeting by presenting a shit-ton of petitions from all over the city, mostly for Stintz’s plan.
  • Mammoliti banged the drum for a subway on Finch, which no one had even been considering until today and which no one can pay for.
  • His argument was that the people up there are real nice and they deserve subways.
  • Like the transit version of the Nice Guy™.
  • The spectre of the St. Clair Right-of-Way Disaster was constantly raised, causing innumerable PTSD flashbacks.
  • Gary Webster pretty much earned his whole year’s salary patiently answering councillors’ wrong-headed questions about LRTs.
  • Denzil Minnan-Wong and others brought up an ’86 vote on subways, because that was the last time subways were actually a good idea. I was not even crawling by then, if that gives you any perspective.
  • Possibly the funniest moment: Nunziata flipping out having just realized that the Stintz “don’t call it the Stintz” plan was basically Transit City. OH SHIT GUYS, SHE’S ON TO US.
  • Nobody knows the fucking difference between LRTs and streetcars.
  • Someone had a button maker and was turning out “I ♥ Gary Webster” and “Karen Stintz Fan Club” pins, seen on the lapels of many centre/left councillors.
  • Rob Ford moved to defer the vote for a month for no damn good reason.
  • Karen Stintz extended an entire goddamn olive tree to the man and he apparently refused any compromise, even though it would make him look good. WAT.
  • Perruzza got all fiery and shit.
  • Doug Ford and Norm Kelly demonstrated their extraordinarily shaky grasp of Canadian history. No, the 2010 mayoral election was not “the largest referendum in Canadian history”, and Toronto is not actually the capital of Canada.
  • Berardinetti shared an impassioned plea to “depoliticize transiAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA I can’t even type that with a straight face.
  • The audience died of hunger and dehydration while every goddamn councillor had to stand up and have their say instead of just having the fucking vote.
  • They had to vote THREE TIMES.
  • Ford et al. (that makes them sound so much classier) threw a fit by opposing all the subsequent motions, even the routine one to end the meeting, WAT.
  • We won!!!

The takeaway: The same people who lectured us since last summer about “nice-to-haves” and fiscal responsibility turned around and argued for throwing away billions of dollars from the province and pouring billions more into the exorbitantly expensive and unnecessary transit option (subways) just because they can’t abide seeing public transit vehicles sharing space with CAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRSSSSSSSSS. And when they don’t get their way they’re extraordinarily petty and mean-spirited about it.

The good news: they’re no longer a majority on Council. The best-case scenario a lot of lefties were hoping for when Ford got elected seems to have come to pass — he’s staked out a position extreme enough that most of Council won’t stand with him. He’s unwilling to compromise or build consensus, and that’s finally coming back to bite him in the ass. People are pissed-off, mobilized, and — for the first goddamn time in years — paying attention.

I don’t think it’s too early to declare Rob Ford the best shitty mayor this town’s ever had.

The “mushy middle” sets at last

Yesterday, while cops and protesters clashed outside City Hall, a quietly dramatic battle was taking place inside. In the face of sweeping budget cuts, the “moderate” councillors joined forces with resident pinkos like Carroll, Davis, and Vaughan and tabled motions reversing the mayor’s most controversial proposals. It started with Josh Colle, a heretofore silent rookie whose key role up till now was being mistaken for Josh Matlow.

Unsure Fry meme: Not sure if Josh Colle...or Josh Matlow

Shortly before the lunch break he put forward an omnibus motion that would save many of the services to be cut, including daycare subsidies, CPIP grants, and community centre youth programs. It was an audacious move that sent Ford allies into a tizzy. Speaker Frances Nunziata was acting like a crabby schoolteacher who’s lost control of her class. Deputy mayor Doug Holyday accused Colle of cutting a deal with his “special interest pals”. Giorgio “The Thumb” Mammoliti desperately attempted to paint Colle’s motion as some kind of salvo in the downtown vs. suburbs wars in a blustering tirade reminiscent of Brady’s closing speech from Inherit the Wind. It became pretty obvious why it was Colle who presented this; he responded to attacks from Ford allies with unusual determination and composure, refusing to be bullied into rhetorical traps.

Josh Colle introduces his motion
Josh Matlow Colle. Photo by Rene Johnston of the Star.

And then, one councillor after another began moving to reverse budget cuts not covered in Colle’s motion. Berardinetti (whose stance on daycare has not been particularly women-friendly) moved to save the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre. Crawford, to keep three shelters open. Cho, to preserve library services. And so on. (Matt Elliott has a wonderful breakdown.) The usual lefty suspects were, for the most part, lying low; most of the councillors were moderates—not always Ford-friendly, but not vocal opponents, either. A few who supported Colle’s motion or tabled their own were reliable Ford allies.

Cllr Gloria Lindsay Luby beams as she gives a thumbs-up, countering Mammoliti's surly thumbs-down.
Mammoliti’s thumb seems to have lost its power. By Steve Russell for the Star.

Side note: Ford’s inner circle (Rob Ford himself, as usual, didn’t participate in debate) badgered everyone (or tried to), as expected, but I thought their treatment of Ana Bailao was inexcusably patronizing. They saw a young, not really aggressive woman rookie and used all the old rich white dude pull they could muster to try to cow her into submission. I hope she wasn’t intimidated, and that she goes into the next meeting more prepared.

As protesters massed in Nathan Phillips Square, police presence ramped up and City Hall was put on lockdown—no one going in, no one going out. Security already wasn’t letting anyone into council chambers, partly because it was very full, partly to prevent any protesters from sneaking in, unfurling banners, and raising a ruckus (which happened a couple times over the course of the day). Tweets flew back and forth. We had only a vague idea about what was happening outside—arrests? tear gas? fights?—and most of the people outside were equally in the dark about what was going on in the council meeting. Tension drew to a peak as Nunziata, to councillors’ very vocal dismay, announced a short recess before the vote—presumably so the mayor’s cadre had time to get councillors alone and whip up enough votes.

And, in the end, Ford lost. Big time. Doucette’s and Bailao’s motions (for the High Park Zoo and fire services, respectively) were ruled out of order and a motion to defer contracting out janitors didn’t carry—but everything else went through, to immense jubilation from the gallery. Ford’s budget was swiftly, decisively defanged.

What I learned?

Common human decency sometimes wins the day. It may take a little (okay, a lot) of backroom machination, is all.

Twenty-two hours in Toronto

“We’re fucked,” I scribble in my notebook as the meeting opens. Inexplicably it is in a small committee room rather than the Council Chambers, so they’ve had to open two overflow rooms and set up a projector and chairs in the lobby. With over 300 people registered to speak, the meeting is going to be ridiculously long. Nevertheless, proposals to move to the Council Chambers and take an overnight break have just been summarily shot down. A motion is passed to let people with children and people with disabilities speak first, but not without Councillor Mammoliti protesting that now everyone will claim to have a disability. This pettiness from the Executive Committee does not bode well for the process ahead, which Mayor Ford describes as separating the “must haves” from the “nice to haves”.

As you may know, KPMG’s “opportunities” for savings are not what strike most people as merely nice to have. They include the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, library branches and services, the Affordable Housing Office, the Community Partnership and Investment Program (which funds, for example, public health initiatives, youth activities, and cultural events), Wheel Trans, and more. (There are murmurs of indignation in the overflow room as the consultants give their presentation.)

This raises the question of how wise it is to cut them for one-time savings. What will the long-term impact be? Might, say, cutting funding that aids the homeless add a larger burden to policing or public health, and end up not saving money at all? Not to mention that many of these programs also save us money or stimulate the economy and receive funding from higher levels of government, so we must also look at how much revenue we stand to lose. But when the visiting councillors brought this up with the KPMG consultants, they replied stolidly again and again, “That was beyond the scope of our report.”

Only a few deputants are able to speak before it’s time for the lunch break. It’s drizzling in Nathan Phillips Square. People with umbrellas line up at the food tents for jerk chicken and ceviche and samosas. A small group of historical re-enactors from Fort York do military drills to a fife and drum. Yep, just a typical day in Toronto.

Later in the meeting the committee will just want to get things over with, but the earliest deputants receive multiple rounds of questions from councillors. Budget chief Cllr. Del Grande attempts to badger the deputants into making all the numbers add up, provoking cries of “That’s your job!” from the overflow rooms. Cllr. Mammoliti reminds each person from local Arts Councils that “of every dollar the provincial government collects in taxes, we get eight cents.” Eight cents, man! And you would have us squander it on art and culture!

Memorable deputants include Kim Fry, who likens this to the Harris government’s “manufactured crisis” and fires back spirited retorts to skeptical right-wing councillors; a neurosurgeon who brings in her very young son “to give him a voice” on zoos and libraries; a young blind woman whose voice shakes with rage as she describes her long struggle to qualify for Wheel Trans; and Kevin Clarke, who swoops in in a blue cape and promptly gets tossed out by security.

A young man named Miro Wagner shares a short fable about “a house called Toronto”, and a foolish contractor who knocks out the ugly pillars in the basement, then declares the house is too heavy and talks the residents into selling off all the furniture and appliances so the house doesn’t collapse. This is just the first of several creative deputations—later on, a guy in a Radio 3 T-shirt reads a speech which I gradually realize is a poem off his iPhone; at the peak of absurdity, Desmond Cole delivers his deputation through a sock puppet named Roy (sadly, no councillors asked follow-up questions); and Susan Wesson delivers her defence of libraries through song.

One woman actually gets a laugh out of Rob Ford as, summing up their political differences, she says, “…and I ride my bike to my gay friends’ wedding!” The only other time he shows interest is when a deputant mentions being a football coach. He drinks can after can of Red Bull and vanishes for long periods of time. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday takes over. He comes across as a bit more chill—for one, he lets people finish their sentences as their time’s running out, and has a less sulky demeanour in general. But the most dedicated councillors aren’t on the Executive Committee; it’s mostly Janet Davis, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks, and Mike Layton who rarely let a deputant go by without questions.

Maureen O’Reilly of the Toronto librarians’ union receives one of the most enthusiastic receptions as people file in with stacks and stacks of petitions and everyone in the room—the rooms!—claps and chants “Save our libraries!” This Youtube clip gives you a pretty good idea of what the night was like: Cllr. Mammoliti being a dick (he threatens to move to adjourn the meeting), Mayor Ford mangling poor Cllr. Mihevc’s name, Cllr. Davis being a mensch, Cllr. Perks essentially thumbing his nose at the Mayor as he asks Mihevc’s question for him, and the public cheering their heads off.

And the seventeen-year-old girls from Crescent Town, talking about how their community centre has improved their neighbourhood; and fourteen-year-old Anika, sobbing as she begs the Mayor not to close libraries; a zookeeper and a parks worker, a med student and a professor; countless ordinary middle-class people saying that they will happily pay higher taxes to keep these things open, because it’s just the right thing to do.

A couple times Cllr. Perks dashes in with freshly refilled pitchers of water. “That’s how it should be,” says someone approvingly, “they’re supposed to be serving us.”

The guy sitting across the table from me brings a box of Timbits to pass around the room. Then suddenly there’s boxes of coffee from Tim Hortons and Starbucks, and cookies, and crackers, and juice. Pie and vegan desserts appear from nowhere. Fresh fruit. (All this in the wee hours of the morning. Where is it coming from?!) There is a general feeling of camaraderie between complete strangers. The people sitting next to me apologize for not being able to stick around to hear my deputation and wish me luck as they leave. Those of us near the end of the list commiserate about the long wait.

Finally I go up and say my bit, and listen to some of the people who have been there since the morning finally getting to say their bit. Himy Syed reels out a list of practical tips for each councillor, culminating in “Councillor Matlow, please unblock me on Twitter.” Dave Meslin, in plaid pyjamas and toting a stuffed bunny, commands great respect as he speaks calmly to the Committee about his disappointment in the whole process.

There is certainly a lot to be disillusioned about. When I read about the Mayor saying he would sit there for days, as long as it took to hear everyone, I guess I assumed that he would do just that—listen. Instead he clearly wanted to get it over as quickly as possible and made no attempt to engage with people. And having the meeting run all night shut out a great number of people who wanted to have their say. I am upset about Mammoliti, who went out of his way to be an asshole to as many people as possible. I am just generally let down by how the Executive Committee were really just there because they felt obliged to be, and those hours and hours of words just went in one ear and out the other. Like Meslin said, the process itself was disrespectful. It was designed with one end in mind: cutting public services as quickly as possible. That’s all.

But I was elated to be there, because it was also a celebration of Toronto. As one deputant (who had been there since 9:30 in the morning; I sat next to her first thing) said near the end of the meeting, “The nice-to-haves are what make this city worth living in.” It was a long, riotous, passionate, often irreverent tribute to the best of our city: art, nature, diverse community. It was a plea for (and by!) the poor and hungry, and a defence of the neighbourhoods some people call “bad” but which we know as our vibrant, resilient homes. It was testimony to the power of public libraries, which I now believe to be the very soul of Toronto. I am so proud to see my neighbours affirm that the fortunate should help out the needy, and that our worth is not measured in a budget surplus, but by how we treat our most vulnerable.

Pardon a little digression. After I came out as queer, I found I couldn’t just carry on as before, with the only change being the number of genders I was attracted to. Rather I came to discover entirely new ways to love, some which I have no name for, some that I had never imagined, some which I never thought I would feel. And it is still happening, and it’s surprising and a little frightening every time. What I learned last week was how it feels to really love my city.

It’s a pretty good feeling.