Category Archives: Uncategorized

ACT LOCAL: Campus Democracy Project!!

[cross-posted from the Unlock Democracy blog]

Toronto UnConference • January 24th • Hart House

Canada uses a broken voting system called “First-Past-the-Post”.  It’s a terrible system because it pushes out new voices, forces voters to choose ‘strategically’, encourages negative campaigns and often delivers us the exact opposite result of what we actually voted for.

But we don’t just use this voting system to choose our national parliament, we also use First-Past-the-Post to choose our provincial parliaments and all of our mayors and City Councillors.  And it doesn’t stop there!  Every week, across Canada, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of elections:  Condo boards, residents groups, non-profit boards, labour elections, high school student councils, tenant boards, credit unions, and post-secondary student unions.  And with few exceptions, almost ALL of these groups use First-Past-The-Post.

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Nine Citizen Heroes


One of my favorite non-profits in Canada, is Samara.  Their mandate is to “improve political participation in Canada”, and their approach is always creative, unique, practical and effective.

A few months ago they launched yet another creative initiative, called “The Everyday Political Citizen Project”.  The goal of the campaign is to celebrate the “unsung political heroes such as campaigners, activists, community organizers, and members of local riding associations who work through the political system to improve their communities, and whose contributions often go unrecognized.”

It’s brilliant.  I think one of the biggest barriers to engagement is the fact that most people simply don’t realise how many ways there are to contribute and participate.  You don’t have to run for office to make a difference.  And you don’t have to march in the streets, chanting bad activist slogans (sorry Canada, our activist chants are terrible).

Canada has thousands of non-profits, charities, grassroots organisations, clubs and associations, comprised of passionate volunteers who are the driving force behind social change.  The work they do is crucial, yet often goes unseen.

I’ve nominated nine people for this project, each who have contributed to the political process in their own creative way. Check ‘em out:

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VIDEOS: Tales from the Twin Cities

A few weeks ago, I drove for 16 hours to Minneapolis along with two other volunteers from the RaBIT campaign: Sarah Rimmington and Chloe Doesburg.

We spent one week documenting and researching their municipal election.  A new City Council was elected – using a ranked ballot!!

After 40 years on this planet, I’d finally witnessed an actual fair election.  There were no distorted results, negative campaigns or ‘vote splitting’  – the hallmarks of a Toronto election.  They elected a female mayor, 46% female council, as well as their first Somali Councillor, first Latino Councillor and first Hmong Councillor.  It was a breath of fresh air, compared to what I’m used to.


Here are three videos I’ve edited, from the footage that the three of us shot on streets of Minneapolis:

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This ad is vacant

Three years ago, I launched The Fourth Wall exhibit containing 36 practical ways to make our local democracy more inclusive, inviting and participatory.

Recommendation #22 was simple:  “The city should pro-actively promote the nomination process and encourage nominations”.

We have this wonderful thing called “Democracy”, where anyone is allowed to put their name on a ballot and ask the public to support their vision and their ideas.  But it only works if people actually know when and how to participate!

In the exhibit, I pointed out that the city does know to produce good outreach materials, when they are seeking nominations for OTHER things …like the ‘Green Toronto Awards’:


Note the effective use of colour, images, pretty fonts, and attractive layout/design.  There’s even an exclamation mark. (!)

As part of the exhibit, I created a fictitious “Call for Nominations” for City Council:


But this ad shouldn’t be fictitious.  We know the City has the capacity to design effective marketing materials.  So I was disappointed to see this ad in today’s newspaper: Continue reading

The Professional Guest


Seven years ago, it occurred to me that paying rent was a real drag.

I was putting together the original business plan for Cycle Toronto, and I realised that we’d need to have a full-time staff person for about nine months, being paid roughly $0 per week.  As long as I needed to pay rent, we couldn’t start the new bike group.

So I came up with a fun idea called “The Professional Guest”.  I sent the following letter to all my friends:

November 27 2006


dear friends!

I’m moving out of my house and I’d like to move into yours.  Don’t be alarmed.  My plan is not to be a moocher nor a ‘Couch Surfer’.  As of New Years, I will begin my new career as a Professional Guest.

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Rob Ford proposes 16 new seats on City Council

Mayor Rob Ford was in Winnipeg this week, and commented that “The thing I liked about it, they only had 16 councillors down there and a little, small council chamber,”

Well, that might be because Winnipeg is roughly a quarter of the size of Toronto.


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Keeping a TAB on City Hall

City Hall has more than a dozen committees, dealing with parks, transportation, budget, social services, development planning, etc.  And each committee meets every month, with a huge agenda.

For those who want to stay on top of a particular municipal issue, the hardest part is navigating through these agendas, and finding the topic you need.  After all, it’s not very helpful to find out about a decision at City Hall after it’s been made.  The trick is to know about agenda items, before they are debated.

Well, here’s some good news!  The good folks at the Toronto Public Space Initiative have designed a new website called TABS: Transparent and Accessible Bulletin System.

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Salt in the Wound • Jarvis and the City’s bike budget

Over the last year, I’ve written extensively about the pending removal of the Jarvis bike lanes.  There are so many reasons why Council should back down on this plan: reasons related to safety, fair process, wasted dollars, and community support for Complete Streets.

Now, we can add another reason.  Not only is the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes a colossal waste of money (the lanes are brand new) – but guess where the money is coming from?  I’ve been able to confirm with the City that the money to REMOVE the lanes is being pulled directly out of the limited budget the City has to INSTALL bike lanes!  So not only are cyclists losing a major bike lane, serving 1000+ cyclists during rush hour, … but we’re seeing our own capital budget reduced at the same time.

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The first DNA award goes to…..Pemberton, BC!

Village of Pemberton CAO Daniel Sailland, Communications Coordinator Jill Brooksbank & Mayor Jordan Sturdy.

Last week, I had the privilege of delivering an award to the Mayor of Pemberton, British Columbia.  Here’s the story behind the award:

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More Drivers for Jarvis!

I first posted about Drivers for Jarvis a few weeks ago.  Since then, I’ve received requests from across TO from those who want to join the campaign!

I’ve pasted some recent photos below, and the full list can be found on the bike union website.

Wanna add your name to the list?  Get in touch:

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