This Christmas, we are celebrating the third year in a row that City Council Chronicles (and our other project, Tear It Down) has made the ELGL Top 100 Local Government Influencers list! We are very thankful for the award, and you can read more about the other 99 honorees on ELGL.org.
Simultaneously, you can listen to our holiday-themed podcast episode on iTunes, Stitcher, Player FM, and right here:
On this episode, you will hear excerpts from these full interviews:
Joe Mihevc was a councillor for over 20 years when Ontario’s premier suddenly announced in the middle of this year’s election that he was cutting the size of Toronto’s city council from 47 wards to 25. This prompted several chaotic council meetings and even more chaotic provincial legislative sessions.
Q: Where were you on the night of July 26, 2018?
A: All councillors were in council session. That’s when we heard rumor on the second floor during the council meeting that something big was happening. We very quickly understood that the premier was going to be making an announcement the very next day that he was going to reduce our council.
Q: You said the word “premier.” For our American listeners, you’ll have to explain what that is. I’m assuming the premier is some sort of demigod? An authoritative mystic with the magic of Dumbledore and the charisma of Barack Obama?
A: Well, the equivalent to premier is “governor.” Here if you win the premiership, you also run the political party that has charge of the legislature. So it’s a pretty neat gig if you can get it.
Q: Councillor Paula Fletcher used the term “Trump tactics” to describe Premier Doug Ford’s council cuts. Do you agree with her description?
A: Absolutely. When we use those words in Canada, in this context it meant that the premier was acting in an authoritarian way. He was not consulting the folks that were impacted. It basically came from his head and he felt he needed to act, which is our perception of how things flow these days at the presidential level.
Q: During the July 27 meeting, you took a dinner break. And after councillors came back, the tone was completely different and more confrontational. What changed during that break?
A: As the day went on it became clear that the threat was real. I would suggest that what Doug–a part of him wanted us to fight it out. He actually provoked a “Hunger Games” at the city. Forty-four councillors recognized that if we did go to 25, there would be a fight for many a seat. Every councillor positioned himself to be active on the issue partly to show the community how strong they were going to be opposing Doug Ford.
Q: Help me understand the types of councillors who were in favor of the province’s action. You mentioned there were Doug Ford’s allies, but were there also people who really could not stand the way your council operates?
A: I think the people who were supportive of Doug Ford’s actions–all of them were on the right-wing side of council.
Q: What do you make of the notion that as a councillor, you don’t have to have 12-hour days and do everything for everyone. With fewer councillors, your focus should be on taking votes in meetings, legislating, and not micromanaging everything that goes on in your neighborhoods?
A: That’s a very good point. It depends on your philosophy. If you want to put it on a spectrum, you can say on one side you are the board members of this $12 billion corporation called the city of Toronto and you are there to make decisions. That’s your job and that’s it. Others feel–and I would be one of them–that you have face time with residents. To double the size [of wards] means to get half the amount of face time.
Q: You knew Doug Ford when he was a city councillor. I take it he was a stickler for efficiency, effective governance, and moral rectitude?
A: [chuckles] Doug Ford was a stickler for trying to grab the limelight and score political points on how he hated all government. The word “dysfunction” that Doug Ford labeled city council–it was dysfunctional for many years when he and his brother [Rob Ford] were here. He was willing to go up into the audience. There was once when he was taunting them to come down and take him on. I remember those times as really tumultuous. Once they left, guess what? A new calm. I would suggest right now that provincial parliament is highly dysfunctional, and he’s at the center of that dysfunction.
Follow former Councillor Joe Mihevc on Twitter: @joemihevc
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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!