Thursday, 22 September 2011

My Second Favourite Vote From Yesterday's Council Meeting

The logical thing to write about today would be the landmark Waterfront defeat of Ford’s agenda but since I’ve already written my first thoughts I’ll move on to my second favourite vote of the day. Before getting to what that is, some context is needed.

There are some regular criticisms of City Council’s left that are agreed to by many: they have no solutions, only want to pick fights and revel in opposition. Doug Ford alluded to some of these criticisms when he called in to Josh Matlow’s radio show last Sunday, “I get bullied by Adam Vaughan, Janet Davis and Gord Perks,” he said. “Rob could come out and say he had the cure for cancer and the left would come out criticizing him”. Matlow somewhat agreed, saying there are some individuals that wouldn’t agree with the mayor no matter what he did.

Matlow’s response is an important distinction. ‘The left’ is not a monolithic voting bloc that thinks the same way (as with the right wing of council). Adam Vaughan is not Shelley Carroll and she is not Mike Layton. Council is filled with very different personalities and one of these that diverge from the Ford caricature of the left is Kristyn Wong-Tam.
Toronto Life/JoeyS4B

Rookie councillor Wong-Tam (read more about her in this excellent Toronto Standard profile ) has acquitted herself as one of the hardest-working councillors and through that has offered workable solutions. She has put together proposals in conjunction with the local BIA to revitalize Yonge and Dundas north to Gerard and was working on a plan to develop Jarvis into a cultural corridor before the bike lanes were unceremoniously cancelled.

It is the latter case where Wong-Tam was first undermined by Denzil Minnan-Wong. The chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, Minnan-Wong spearheaded the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes that was done without notice to local councillor Wong-Tam or community consultation.

Two weeks ago it happened again. Minnan-Wong, once again without notice to Wong-Tam, put forward a proposal to study the Yonge-Dundas pedestrian scramble. She stated she was okay with the idea of looking at it (even though it means it’s clearly under threat) but was again frustrated with ulterior motives and the lack of notice to her (giving notice to the local councillor is considered proper etiquette). Minnan-Wong responded in an interview with the Toronto Star that described him as dismissively saying with a smile, “A-gain? Poor Kristyn.” and on Metro Morning argued that Wong-Tam’s objections were disingenuous.

Which brings us to yesterday’s council meeting. As with the Jarvis bike lanes, Minnan-Wong was scheduled to speak last and introduced a last minute amendment (this time to consult with the TTC, but not riders). In his speech, he referred to Dundas St.:      

 “There’s been a lot of discussion about the process and how notice is required and notice has to be given and somehow councillors’ rights have been abridged or sacrificed. I can tell you, they have not. No rule has been broken, no member has raised an objection, I have not received any complaints from the integrity commissioner…. One member of council has been complaining that they were somehow injured or the community not notified, but I can tell you, quite frankly, it is not my job to do the work of other councillors for them.”

Minnan-Wong goes on to argue that accommodations were available if they were asked for. If she- he then stopped himself to say 'they'- had requested to specially speak at committee, he would have allowed it. Until the rules change, everything was proper.

Wong-Tam spoke on a point of privilege to point out that the report at the committee level did not touch her ward and the suggestion that she should have been there out of interest is disingenuous. She objected to Minnan-Wong suggesting that she isn’t doing her job to which Minnan-Wong said that ‘I never said that’. John Parker, acting as speaker, agreed because no particular councillor was mentioned by name.

Which bring us to my second favourite vote of the day. After Wong-Tam lost a challenge to the speaker’s ruling there was a vote to extend Minnan-Wong’s speaking time.

Here’s how it went (apologies for the blurry screencap):

In spite of Minnan-Wong’s personal attack, the procedural shenanigans he has pulled, and the lack of courtesy he has shown, Wong-Tam chose to extend his time. No one would have batted an eye if she chose to vote against it but instead she decided to rise above it.

It’s a really small thing, but that’s why it’s worth mentioning. These acts of courtesy don’t really go noticed but they are what collectively ensure civility and integrity in our discourse. They defy the stereotype that casts aspersions on certain ‘types’ of councillors and they’re things that Denzil Minnan-Wong could hopefully appreciate. 

On a day when Kumbaya was ironically sung by councillors Wong-Tam quietly embraced the spirit. 

It’s not quite the same as beating a monorail-megamall-ferris wheel, but it’s worth celebrating. 


  1. Y0u have interesting insights. I view them all somewhat differently.

    Without names, Toronto City Council [they] have been elected to lead, listen decide vote. Yet when they have a chance to do things for budgetary discipline and long term financial restraint they decide not to decide and leave the tough choices to others.

    Leading is not about being popular Its about being effective.

    David Pylyp
    I am paid for results that matter

  2. A very nice piece. But please correct the fifth word to the correct form of write. :)

  3. @Anonymous Yikes, that's a pretty bad mistake. Fixed, and thanks for pointing it out.