10 Toronto City Council Facts to Impress Your Friends and Potential Mates

It was an electrifying week to embark on our first international city council review! Less electrified was my accountant, who has since advised me to “never, ever fly First Class to Canada again, you moron.”

Anyhow, there was waaaaay too much cool stuff about the Toronto city council to mention. So I’ll mention it all here in the form of a handy list.

1. They start very patriotically.

In the U.S., council meetings usually kick off with the Pledge of Allegiance and occasionally a prayer. In Toronto, a choir sings the Canadian national anthem on top of a sweeping video montage. Come on, America, where’s our inspirational stock footage?!

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2. The mayor’s there!

In big cities, it’s unusual for the mayor to be in the room with the council. It’s even more unusual for the mayor to vote on the council. But in Toronto, the mayor is basically the 45th councilor.

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3. HUGE. NAME. PLACARDS.

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4. They don’t look at each other.

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Here’s an odd thing to watch: when councilors are asking questions to city staff, SOMETIMES they make eye contact like normal human beings. But usually, councilors don’t bother turning to look!

“There’s very few councilors who don’t know exactly where their camera is,” Councilor Shelley Carroll told me. “You pretty much get your media training on the job pretty fast.”

5. They can’t talk directly to people.

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“Hey, Michael, what do you mean by that?” you might ask.

And if I were a Toronto city councilor, I would respond, “Through the speaker, they talk to each other by saying ‘through the speaker.'”

Explained Carroll: “You’re not supposed to take somebody on. Canadian cities try to treat themselves like they’re a House of Commons.” Yes, we wouldn’t want councilors to confront each other…any more than they usually do (see below).

6. They vote DING DING while a chime DING DING rings.

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When councilors vote with their machines, they hear a steady pulsating chime–imagine an autotuned version of a garbage truck’s back-up beeper. It’s kind of hypnotic. I wonder if anyone has dozed off while voting.

 7. A lot of people ACTUALLY watch.

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8. You don’t get to talk forever.

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Councilors have a time limit on asking questions. The speaker butts in when they are done to say, “that was your last question.” And then she cuts their mic! Given how Toronto’s council meetings often stretch into double-digit hours, you better believe time limits are necessary. But I have yet to see another council that plays stopwatch cop like this.

9. They are very polite.

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Of course they’re polite–this is Canada! There were so many “sorrys” that I lost count. Like in this exchange between Councilor Josh Colle and the deputy city manager:

Colle:  What has been the increase in property taxes collected?

DCM: $303 million, I believe.

Colle: Sorry, that’s TTC fares.

DCM: No, sorry, that’s property taxes.

Colle: You might have it the other way around?

DCM: Sorry.

On the other hand,

10. They openly bicker.

The council has a “bylaw,” which members invoke if they think someone is behaving poorly–for example, by insulting the staff. Councilors can also challenge Speaker Frances Nunziata on her rulings. In return, the speaker sometimes snaps at them about wasting time and keeping the noise level down. During the Rob Ford shenanigans, antics were even worse:

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Interview #7: Toronto, ON Councilor Shelley Carroll

No one is better equipped to give us the director’s commentary on the Toronto city council meeting than longtime councilor and Twitter powerhouse Shelley Carroll.

She told me the scoop on Rob Ford, council drama, and her fantasy hockey team.

Q: How many people usually show up to watch? And follow-up question: how many moose usually show up?

A: It’s been a while since we’ve had a moose. In terms of how many “municipal nerds” are there–

Q: Your phrase, not mine.

A: We have a lot of bloggers–the councilors call them Twitterati. There’s about a dozen of them. If we’re doing something with taxis or Uber, there’s 500-600 people in there. The lowest it ever gets is around 50-70 people.

Q: You are the deputy speaker. I saw what the speaker does and it looks exhausting. What does the deputy speaker do?

A: In my case the deputy speaker doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot.

Q: Nice!

A: The speaker you saw is very, very possessive about being in that chair. She had a rough time during the Rob Ford years. She asked to be speaker again under a new mayor and it was a tough vote. She almost didn’t make it. She is doing a pretty good job with a pretty crazy council.  But I’m lucky if I get to be in the chair ten minutes a day.

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Toronto, ON Councilor Shelley Carroll

Q: Oh boy, you mentioned He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Obviously the Rob Ford scandal was a tough time for everyone–except late night comedians. After the crack-smoking news got out, were council meetings more hostile?

A: Definitely. Oftentimes he wan’t the most hostile force in the room. His brother was.

Q: When the council was debating what to do with Rob Ford, one reporter tweeted this:

Is that true?

A: Yeah. By the time we were taking his powers away, it was petty on all sides. I’ve been in office since 2003. That two weeks leading up to taking Rob’s powers away were the most “together” council has ever been. He was just completely humiliating us. That was right after he said the horrible thing about his wife to the media.

Q: I saw the video, yes.

A:  I spent a lot of time on Twitter inoculating myself from their bullying.  “Don’t mess with me or I’ll tweet it!”

Q: Are there any councilors you do not like? You don’t have to name–

A: Giorgio Mammoliti.

Q: Noted. Now, suppose the Montreal city council challenged you to a game of hockey. Which five Toronto city councilors would you pick for your team?

A: Oddly, I probably would take Giorgio Mammoliti. He would throw them for a loop the whole time.

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We’d probably match them wit for wit, so we’d have to take Gord Perks.

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I would take Janet Davis. Councilor Davis is obsessed with reading every word of every report. She would read about a year’s worth of every agenda in the Montreal council. She would lay waste to them.

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We’d take Josh Matlow because he’s a part-time Montrealer and he would beat them on their own level.

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My one more pick, I would take Joe Cressy. He’s just the youngest and most nimble person on council. So he would whip their ass athletically.

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Q: I’m a bit surprised that a Canadian just said “ass,” but I’ll let it slide.


Follow Councilor Shelley Carroll on Twitter: @shelleycarroll

#36: Toronto, ON 7/12/16

Oh, baby! It’s Canada Week here at the Chronicles! I hope you packed a passport and your curling uniform, because we’re off to the Toronto city council meeting.

Meeting? Sorry. I meant “endurance test.”

These hardy Maple Leafers hunkered down for T-E-N H-O-U-R-S. And as it turns out, ten hours in Canada converts to ten AMERICAN hours as well. Lucky me.

Speaking of America, Mayor John Tory began by saying goodbye to Toronto’s Philadelphia-bound transportation manager–and good luck. “If there are any circumstances which TRUMP your desire to return home, you’ll always be most welcome here,” he remarked dryly as the room erupted in laughter.

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Oh, yeah? Well…who’s your president? A moose? Ha, burned.

Next came the excruciating process of figuring out a.) who wanted b.) to say what c.) and when on the city budget. (Hint: every. body. wanted. to. talk.)

“On page 10,” Councilor Michael Thompson politely requested, “I’m just wondering, is it possible to have this Thursday morning as a first item–”

Loud grumbles rolled in from councilors who had Thursday morning in their crosshairs.

“There’s also a desire to hold the supervised injection [debate] at that time!” Councilor Joe Mihevc protested.

Council Speaker Frances Nunziata raised a hand. “I’m sorry but Councilor Thompson had his name before yours,” she curtly shut him down. It’s a reminder of that old saying: “the early bird gets the sweet Thursday morning discussion slot.”

It was a minor tiff–but by hour 2.5, tempers really flared.

During routine questioning of the city manager, Councilor James Pasternak casually inquired about sloppy staff recommendations: “What strategies do you have to make sure that shenanigans stops?”

As the city manager defended himself, Councilor Gord Perks perked up.

“Councilor Pasternak just described city staff’s budget process as ‘shenanigans,'” the wavy-haired man complained.  “I ask that he withdraw that.”

“Madam Speaker, Councilor Perks has twisted my words!” protested Pasternak.

The speaker was on his side. “Continue,” she ordered Pasternak. Then she froze. “Councilor Perks is challenging my ruling.” One off-mic councilor hollered what sounded like a profanity. This is amazing–I’m already googling “how to move to Canada.”

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You challenge a Canadian speaker by hip-checking her on the ice rink.

A high-pitched chime pulsed in the chamber–like a creepy kid’s toy–signaling that councilors had to vote on whether to back their fearless leader.

Final tally: 23-9. The speaker wins.

After break to eat lunch and walk off the crankiness, councilors returned to a familiar dilemma: cut services or raise taxes?

“There’s a number of things we do as a city that we don’t have to be doing,” Councilor Giorgio Mammoliti grumbled. “We don’t have to be in the childcare business! Why the hell aren’t we talking about this stuff?!”

Another councilor–ever polite–corrected him. “Heck.”

Mammoliti scowled. “Hell.”

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Others are visibly shocked by Councilor Mammoliti’s language.

It was the bottom of the ninth (hour). The humans were tired but, oddly enough, the machines were even tireder.

As Councilor Thompson spoke, several loud booms rocked the sound system.

Then…dead mic.

“Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on,” the speaker shrugged, not entirely upset at this gentle suggestion by Fate.

“Shut ‘er down!” shouted Councilor Shelley Carroll, chomping to get out of Dodge.

Unluckily for her, the mics rebooted, letting Councilor Thompson inch the meeting across the ten-hour line. Ugh, I’m getting too old for this sh…enanigans.

Final thoughts: Stay tuned! There’s more Canada Coverage on Wednesday and Friday!