About a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the lack of gender balance at City Hall. I included a group photo of City Council’s Committee Chairs:
Yes, they’re all men.
But, since that blog post, things have changed at City Hall. As of this month, there will now be one female Committee Chair at City Hall. Jaye Robinson has been appointed chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee, bringing the number of female Chairs on the Executive Committee up from 0% to 14%.
In honour of this breakthrough, I thought I’d reappropriate a recent (odd) marketing campaign from Mark’s Work Warehouse and design our own ad for Toronto:
click for full-size image
PS: If you’re interested in boosting representation at City Hall, here are some groups working on democratic renewal and political accessibility:
I’ve always had trouble with partisanship. In 2006, I was labelled a ‘promiscuous endorser‘ by NOW magazine for endorsing Adam Vaughn, Helen Kennedy and Desmond Cole – who were all running against each other. I thought each one of them would each make a fantastic City Councillor.
In my teenage years I was a young Liberal. In my twenties I was a New Democrat. For most of my thirties I’ve been multipartisan, or as I prefer to call it, ‘transpartisan’: transcending the notion of politics as a team sport and working towards less polarisation and more collaboration.
The prefix ‘trans’ is often used to describe a bridge between two places, or something that unites many things together (ie: the Trans-Canada Highway).
And so it is, on November 27th my highway will be taking an exit at the “Third Annual Evening with Mike and Friends“. Mike who, you ask? Mike Schreiner. Mike Schreiner WHO, you ask? Mike Schreiner – the leader of the Ontario Green Party, and you’re not to blame if you have never heard of him. Mike is an articulate and inspiring leader, but he suffers under the weight of a political system that discriminates against new voices:
With all the talk about increasing “customer service” in Toronto, you would think that our own City Hall would have a couple of full-time receptionists who can help people find their way. In fact, you would think that in a city of 2.5 million people, our City Hall would have three or four receptionists! Hey, why not even go a step further? We often hear that we should run the city “like a business”. Well, the smartest businesses are the ones that have swarms of customer service reps and ‘greeters’ who are readily available to offer assistance.
But here at City Hall we have one part-time receptionist on duty, sitting behind an enormous desk. Often, her chair sits empty and there is simply a sign that says:
If you picked up the phone right now and called Rob Ford’s office, a nice fellow by the name of Tom Beyer would answer the phone. Tom has been the ‘customer service’ face of Ford’s office for two years, spending long days answering hundreds of calls and even making appearances on behalf of the mayor.
About a year ago, Tom and I were chatting about our hobbies. Tom’s an avid videographer, and his favorite subjects to shoot are off-street bike paths and indie rock bands. That got us talking about music, and we came up with a fun idea: let’s create a non-partisan City Hall band! I liked the idea of left and right coming together to make music. It seemed to fit well with other efforts I was making to reduce polarization at City Hall and encourage civil discourse and mutual respect. Oh, and it would be fun as hell.
Last week I spent four days at a brilliant conference in Vancouver called Alone Together. It was all about “Connecting in the City”, and participants explored themes of urban isolation, social disconnectedness, and the sensation of feeling alienated or lost in your own city.
The conference was well-organised, with an amazing 6-day programme. One of my favorite things was the back page of the official conference booklet. They printed a door hanger – for your neighbours. Love this:
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.
“Do you think we should be consulting the local residents before we make this decision?”
~ City Councillor Mike Layton
“I’ve got no quarrel with that”
~ City Councillor John Parker
During the 13 years that I’ve been following meetings at City Hall, I’ve learned a lot about how the democratic process is supposed to function. It’s a complicated process – one that I’ve tried to de-mystify for my readers last year by writing “Inside Baseball: The rules of City Council” and a chapter in Local Motion called “Finding your way through City Hall”.
The process can seem complicated and burdensome, but every part of it exists for a reason. The process is designed to include input from a variety of sources, such as from expert staff or from residents who will affected by a decision.
When procedural steps are avoided, or ignored, the system breaks down and the process is no longer democratic. One of the worst cases I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been watching Council meetings since Mel Lastman was mayor, and Jack Layton was a rogue Councillor), was last year when John Parker moved the motion to remove the Jarvis bike lanes at the June meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.