For almost 20 hours, from 11:30 am Thursday to about 6:40 Friday, Toronto city hall was a democratic hotbed. Almost 340 people registered to speak before the Executive Committee of city council, at the invitation of Mayor Rob Ford. They were there to talk about the KPMG Core Service Review.
“This is one of the proudest days I’ve ever had at city hall,” the mayor said, acknowledging that not everyone agrees, but saying he respected their passion.
In the stuffy committee room, a code began to develop among those deputing, councillors and the bleary-eyed reporters (such as yours truly), who gave up sleep that fateful night to hear 169 Torontonians speak about their priorities for the city. Here’s a guide—in just 10.5 points—to the deputations from someone who was there.
Noun, describing someone who deputes. Not to be confused with debutant. Depute. As in to make a deputation, the absurd verb-form widely used in the #TOCouncil twittersphere. A deputation is what someone speaks before a committee of Toronto’s municipal government, like a testimony before an American congressional hearing. Look, we’ve only got 140 characters and “deputize” would give a Spaghetti Western flavour to our municipal politics hashtag.
Most of the deputations were very earnest. But a public meeting is a public meeting and it went on for 20 hours, something was bound to happen. In the final few hours, Desmond Cole gave his deputation with a brown sock puppet on his arm. The puppet was named Roy and he said, “Councillors, don’t give in to cynicism and defeat. After all, we didn’t vote for any puppets.” While Councillor Fragedakis applauded Cole’s creativity, the puppet was very unpopular with Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who pointed to the puppet as an example of deputants disrespecting council.
White-haired ladies made quite a mark on the Executive Committees public deputations, whether it was Ida Baan and Mona Piper of the School Crossing Guard Association or through the York-Fairbank Centre for Seniors. While the Standard‘s Ivor Tossell may deserve some credit for the coinage, Mary T. Hynes made a mark all her own in her ironic-to-iconic deputation calling for the libraries to be shut down and sold off because too many people are literate. Yes, there’s a video so you can see it yourself. The overflow rooms burst into cheers when Hynes finished up… oh what, you don’t know what an overflow room is?
With 344 speakers listed by the clerk as of 10 am Thursday (with a few duplications) and spectators coming in and out of City Hall, there wasn’t enough room for everyone to fit in Committee Room 1, where Mayor Ford and the Executive Committee were meeting. Councillors Mihevc and Wong-Tam tried to get the committee moved to the council chambers. Instead Committee Rooms 2 and 4 were designated overflow rooms. People gathered to watch the meeting on CCTV, waiting to be called into Room 1 to depute. Some speculated it was an attempt to avoid a unwieldy group dynamic developing—the sound of cheerleading in raucous Room 2 proved that to be in vain. Snacks from watermelon to chili were brought in to fuel participants late into the night and into the morning. Both rooms were full for most of the night, until about 6 am when only about a dozen people were left in the Room 2.
You know what the province is, right? It lives in a pink palace at Queen’s Park and is bigger than the city, but smaller than the federal government. WRONG. Especially if you’re Councillor Mammoliti. The former NDP member of provincial parliament says Queen’s Park is shortchanging the city. So does Councillor David Shiner. The two members of the executive committee blame recent cuts from the province for most the city’s financial woes, whether daycare or social housing. Funny thing is, their opponents also blame the province, for downloading those responsibilities to the city in the 1990s under Premier Mike Harris. No matter what side your on, the province should be called upon to pay for transit, daycare and social housing.
TORONTO LOVES LIBRARIES
Deputants came from near and far to talk about the benefits of libraries. About 39,000 people signed the Our Public Library petition. A 14 year-old girl from Scarborough named Anika Tabovaradan made her first ever deputation between sobs (she started by declaring she hates public speaking). Tabovaradan said sometimes the only space left for her to read at her local library was on the floor. Yoga instructor Matthew Remski talked about how libraries are places of personal and social introspection in one of the most philosophical deputations of the night. Tabovaradan was not the only deputant to get choked up talking about the transformative power of books and literature and, yes, both Margaret Atwood and Dr. Seuss were quoted.
THE WARHOL ECONOMY
Councillor Norm Kelly deserves some kind of commission from author Elizabeth Currid for how many times he mentioned her book, The Warhol Economy, to deputants who spoke in favour of arts grants. The Scarborough councillor was really taken with the book, about the development of New York City’s creative economy. Kelly said the book justified the city getting out of the businesses of providing grants to the arts industry; others, notably Councillor Gord Perks, disagreed. The Toronto Public Library has eight copies of the book, the committee heard. Former mayoral candidate Himy Syed even brought in a copy for his deputation. So pick up one of the seven copies left at the library.
Deputants went a long way to prove they were Mayor Ford’s kind of people. They declared they live in Doug Ford’s Etobicoke ward or Michael Thompson’s Scarborough ward. After some councillors made public remarks that public deputation would be stacked with union cronies, deputants underlined they were hardworking normal taxpayers. Of the eight deputants who indicated they were speaking on behalf of unions when they registered, less than half spoke. Maureen O’Reilly, the Toronto Public Library Workers Union Local 4948 president and petition-organizer, did speak. Representatives from most CUPE Locals did not stay at city hall until the wee hours. Homeowners who were able to leave renting behind with the help of Community Partnership and Investment Program grants, announced they were now taxpayers.
By far, the majority of deputants spoke out against service cuts. Whether it was to TTC Blue Night Network or HIV/AIDS prevention programs, people—sometimes, but not always directly affiliated with the program—defended Community Partnership and Investment Grants. Many spoke in favour of returning the vehicle registration tax. Only three deputants seemed to agree with some version of eliminating services, freezing taxes or increasing user fees. Tim Rourke said grant-receiving agencies are “poverty pimps” and the city should be split into 144 smaller councils. William Pearson said if people love the library so much, they should make donations to the Library Foundation instead of raising everyone’s taxes. One of the last speakers, Lawrence Faberman supported library user fees for richer neighbourhoods or contracting Chapters-Indigo to run the service.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Yes, public deputations do attract some regulars. For the most part, they’re people who are engaged in their community and want to make sure their voices are heard on council. Dave Meslin showed up to the committee in his pyjamas with a teddy bear. Meslin said the marathon deputation-style was inaccessible for deputants with families or jobs, who couldn’t stay at city hall until 4 am. Himy Syed regularly tweets from committees and his deputation involved calling out (most) of the executive committee by name with his own recommendations for them. Susan Gapka from Tenants for Social Housing deputed on her out-of-the-blue eviction from Toronto Community Housing and the importance of social housing. Gapka called the deputation the citizen’s filibuster.
…AND THE LESS USUAL
Kevin Clarke had an outburst where, draped in a blue tarp, he shouted that the Ford stole the election and challenged him to a debate. Clarke was promptly escorted away from city hall by security.