Spiders of the Western Waterfront

If you follow my Instagram you’ll see that I spend most of my spider-watching time on the western waterfront. There’s an abundance of diverse spider habitats all along the Martin Goodman Trail, but there are several parks that are worth dedicated visits. Here’s a tour…

Continue reading Spiders of the Western Waterfront

Five years ago yesterday…

…I walked into Toronto City Hall for the first time ever. I’d lived in Toronto since 2003, but I had very little interest in city politics—I was too busy first being a student, and later being poor. Then word started going around about proposed sweeping budget cuts. I was worried about how it would affect Parkdale, the neighbourhood I’d moved to in 2009 and grown to love. The mayor had said he would sit at City Hall and listen all night, if need be, to people’s concerns. How often do you get a promise that the mayor will listen to you, personally?

So, off I went. It was magical. You can read my account here. (Or the Star’s. Or Torontoist‘s liveblog. Or watch Matt Elliott’s hand-picked highlights.) I got thrown out near the end, when I yelled “Shut the fuck up” at Cllr Mammoliti. (I was horribly ashamed at the time. I cried about letting down all the councillors who had behaved with such dignity and composure all night. Later, I would learn that this was a normal response to Mammoliti and I was just saying what everyone else was thinking.)

I was hooked, and I kept going back. Normally cautious about privacy, I unlocked my Twitter account so I could livetweet and talk to strangers. I started reading reports and writing blog posts. I became part of a cadre of amateur City Council watchers who followed City Hall for fun—and later, as a calling, as many became writers, editors, political staff, and activists. Many of the people from the 2011 all-night meeting became familiar faces, friends, colleagues, and even chosen family.

I remember the morning I showed up to a Budget Committee meeting and realized that being motivated to show up to Budget Committee meetings in the morning was a rare gift. I remember that night in the pub I started crying because I realized politics could be a genuine career and a ticket out of poverty. I remember when people started buying me beer. I remember the first time I knocked on a door for a Council candidate and asked a complete stranger to vote for them. (It was fucking terrifying, and I’ve done it countless times since.)

It’s been a wonderful five years. I’m intensely grateful for it, and uncertain but optimistic about what the future will bring. Thanks to everyone for reading and being a part of this journey. I will totally hit you up to fund my publication/campaign in the future.

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.

Ninety-one years ago today

This afternoon I went to see Dave Meslin’s Fourth Wall exhibit, a gallery of ideas on improving civic engagement in Toronto, drawn from other cities around the world and our own history.

One of the most fantastic historical tidbits comes from the no-longer-extant Bureau of Municipal Research, a non-partisan organization that researched and produced reports about various city issues. This little pamphlet is from 1921. Mez has scans (page 1, page 2), but I wanted to transcribe it for accessibility’s sake.

Effective Citizen Co-Operation
What Is Everybody’s Business Should Be Each Body’s Business


Issued by the
Bureau of Municipal Research
189 1/2 Church Street, Toronto.
Telephone: Main 3620


Bulletin No. 84, January 7, 1921


Will 1921 Be A New Year In Civic Administration

OR

Will It Be the Same Old Year With a New Number?

Would the adoption of some of the following New Year’s Resolutions Make for More Effective Civic Administration?


For a Member of Council or Board of Education

  1. I will not speak on any subject unless I know something about it, and I will learn something about any subject on which I should speak.
  2. When I have said all I have to say of value on any subject I will stop talking.
  3. I will always confine myself to the subject on which I am speaking, and will not resort to personalities, no matter what the provocation, nor talk to the gallery, nor conceal my real sentiments in order to retain votes.
  4. I will keep my mind on the work in hand rather than keep my ear to the ground for tremors of dissatisfaction from interested quarters.
  5. I will vote on every measure that comes before the Council or Board, if necessary requesting the postponement of the vote until any required information may be obtained. I will not retire to the members’ room on the approach of a vote which I should like to avoid for personal or political reasons.
  6. In all my statements to constituents and colleagues, my yea shall be yea, and my nay, nay.
  7. I will treat the funds of the city as trust funds, and shall not suffer any of them to be appropriated, without vigorous protest, for objects not in the general public interest, no matter what the effect on my political fortunes may be.
  8. In dealing with the annual estimates, I will consider the best interests of the city as a whole, and will not resort to log-rolling, overt or tacit, and I will consider carefully the recommendations and statements of the official financial advisers of the city.
  9. Except in cases where the public interest requires it, I will protest against the conduct of any public business in private, either through the holding of private meetings or surreptitious meetings of cliques or factions to decide upon a course of action to be taken in public.
  10. I will speak and vote this year at the risk of it being my last year in Council or on the Board.
  11. I will not vote to upset the recommendations of any department head until such department head has been given every opportunity to defend his recommendation and, in my judgment, has failed to do so satisfactorily. Neither will I consent to any action being taken on matters requiring technical advice until such advice has been requested and obtained from the departments concerned.

For a Citizen

  1. During 1921 I will occasionally drop a note of commendation, commiseration or condemnation to my representatives in Council or on the Board of Education.
  2. I will not regard the interests of my ward above the interests of my city, and will not bring pressure on aldermen or trustees to secure special treatment for my ward or locality which would not be a benefit to the city as a whole.
  3. I will not ask Council to suspend by-laws for my personal advantage when it would involve a disadvantage to the city as a whole, nor will I support others in asking for such special treatment.
  4. In determining my actions as a citizen, I will obtain all the information possible, and then make up my own mind without outside dictation, on the ground that I shall be one of those who suffer in case of a mistake.
  5. I will study the estimates of the city as they pass through the various stages of amendment and adoption.
  6. I will try to do as much thinking about civic expenditures to which I contribute as about my private expenditures for services not paid for through the tax rate.
  7. I will not condone the brow-beating or contemptuous treatment of civic officials, while trying to protect the city’s interests, by any of my elected representatives, even if I may think such officials are mistaken.
  8. I will allow the results of my observations to affect my course when the times for nomination and election come around at the close of the year.
  9. I will be a citizen during 1921, not a parasite or mollusk, or piece of blotting paper.

Do you think the current City Council has been living up to these New Year’s resolutions? Would they agree to be bound by them in 2012? And how well are we doing at the whole mollusk thing?