Something Amazing Happened At City Hall Last Night

The moment we know we'll remember for a long, long time came just after two in the morning. That's when Anika Tabovaradan sat down in front of the Executive Committee. She's 14 years old. And she's scared that the city might close her local library in Scarborough. So she came to City Hall to tell the councilors what her library means to her. How it's the only place she can study after school. How she needs it to get good grades and, someday, a good job. And she came to say that even though she hates public speaking. Like really hates it. So much so that as she spoke she was sobbing uncontrollably, her body shaking as others comforted her and the crowd cheered her on. When she was done, she literally had to wipe her tears off the table. It was probably braver than anything we've done in our entire, sheltered lives.

At that point, citizens had been speaking one after the other for 16 hours. There were crossing guards and teachers and librarians and business leaders and community volunteers and a guy who works in a parking lot kiosk. Rob Ford had announced on television that, as always, anyone who wanted to speak — for or against his cuts — was welcome. But they were pretty much unanimous. They spoke out passionately against his slash and burn tactics, against the KPMG core services report, and against the flawed process that forced people to take time off work and then stay up all night in order to have their voices heard. Hundreds of them showed up at City Hall, packing the chamber and spilling out into overflow rooms. They told the committee what the services on the chopping block meant to them. How they had saved lives. Kept people safe. Improved health. Created jobs. How those services enriched the economy and their lives and the culture of the city. The speakers were diverse: some young, some old, some articulate, some pretty darn crazy. Those who couldn't make it down to Queen Street in person followed along from home, tuned in on television or online, stayed up far past their bedtimes to pay rapt attention to deputations at a municipal Executive Committee meeting. Seriously. When the hell has that happened ever? Even during the hockey playoffs our Twitter feed has never been so single-mindedly interested in one event. It was, in short, inspiring.

Of course, last night probably didn't change many minds. We can only hope that the deputations swayed a few centrist councilors to vote against the most appalling of the cuts. But it was clear all along that the right-wing councilors weren't going to be swayed. In fact, they did pretty much everything they could to stifle the discussion. Ford had promised five minutes for every speaker; they cut it down to three. They cut the time allowed for questions down to a minute each. And they did it by cheating, counting the vote of a councilor who wasn't even in the room at the time the vote was called. They forced this marathon all-night session, which, if they were geniunely interested in hearing what people had to say, should have been spread out over days. Instead, they voted to push on through the night without any breaks and into the wee hours of the morning — and then the not-so-wee hours — so that they could get the hearing-directly-from-the-people out of the way as quickly as possible. And so that the whole thing was as inconvenient as possible. When it became clear that hundreds of people were going to stay and talk anyway, the conservatives claimed that deputants had been paid to show up. That the citizens who supported cuts weren't there because they were "too busy working, paying taxes, creating jobs". Councilor Mammoliti repeatedly threatened to shut the whole thing down. And, as the meeting wrapped up at about 8 o'clock this morning, after more than 22 hours, the right-wing made their feelings very clear. One after the other the conservatives on council lined up to denounce the "fear-mongering" they claimed they had just witnessed. (The fear, according to them, is an invention of the media and the citizens of Toronto, not the councilors who stood with the mayor as he hired KPMG to list every single service the city isn't legally required to provide so that he could call it all gravy that needs to be cut.)

But nothing those councilors did could obscure the overwhelming message of the night: hope.

Last night made it clear to anyone who was beginning to have their doubts: there are still a hell of a lot of people who care very deeply about the services this city provides. Hundreds of them were willing to wait around all day and all night to speak and to listen. They spoke with passion. Many offered to pay more taxes. One woman handed over her share right then and there. And most inspiring of all, many of them spoke about the work they do in Toronto every single day, having dedicated their lives to making sure that the people in the city around them are safe, healthy, educated and happy.

All the way back in the late-1700s, Toronto was founded by corrupt, incompetent conservatives who didn't believe in democracy. People like Ford are hardly new here; they've always had a particularly strong voice in our city. But one of the overarching stories of Toronto's 200 years is the story of how everyone else has built a great, caring, welcoming, liberal city anyway.  We've had to fight for it. We fought for democracy and for a public school system. We fought to keep them from attacking minorities in our streets. From paving over our neighbourhoods with expressways. From arresting our poets in our parks. We've had to fight for women's rights and for civil rights and so that we could marry the people that we loved. And for more than 200 years — despite all the setbacks and the crappy mayors and the unbelievable jerks — we have slowly and surely been winning that battle.

There is no doubt that we have rough years ahead. It's going to suck. But last night was a reminder that long after Rob Ford has been booted out of City Hall, there will still be hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of people working to make Toronto a better place to live. Now, granted, we didn't get much sleep last night, so we're feeling pretty tired and emotional right now. But looking back on those 22 amazing hours, they seem to hint that maybe, just maybe, we'll come out of these years more engaged with each other, better educated about the politics of our city, and more convinced than ever that we need to work tirelessly and continuously to build the city we love.

At 8 o'clock this morning, after the last of the deputants had finally finished speaking, even Rob Ford had to admit that he'd witnessed something special. "This is one of the proudest days I've ever experienced down at City Hall," he said, adding. "I am very, very proud of each and every one of you."

For once, we actually agree with him.


Posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at

Photo: still from Resident Evil. No, really.


Alex said...

Fantastic post, Adam. No matter what happens Torontonians have a lot to be proud of today.

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