Council votes to fire TCHC board, but not before hours of hilarity, weirdness, jazz hands and unwitting racism

Council votes to fire TCHC board, but not before hours of hilarity, weirdness, jazz hands and unwitting racism

Jazz hands! Guests in the gallery raised their arms instead of clapping or cheering at last night’s city council meeting (Image: John Michael McGrath)

The headline news out of city council last night was that, as expected, Mayor Rob Ford and his allies voted 25–18 to dismiss the four remaining councillors on the board of Toronto Community Housing Corporation and replace them with Case Ootes. The process was, to put it mildly, bizarre. This was a special meeting convened on urgent business—but Speaker Frances Nunziata ruled that any discussion of the actual auditor general report on the TCHC would be out of order. Every subsequent attempt by the opposition to bring the report up for discussion—that is, to address the reasons for dismissing the TCHC board—were also ruled out of order. It was not, in short, a great day for civic democracy in Toronto.

But on to the hilarity.

This council meeting was probably the most uproariously crazy we’ve seen in a while. (And remember, council meetings already featured a prop toilet this year.) We got an early taste of who the crowd favoured when Adam Vaughan and Gord Perks walked in to cheers and applause. Clearly, Ford Nation was either not in attendance or they were caught in traffic behind a streetcar. After a few more rounds of cheering for the left and booing the right, Nunziata threatened to have the crowds ejected from council. As a compromise, Paula Fletcher suggested that people wave their hands in the air as a silent alternative—what The Globe and Mail’s Kelly Grant dubbed “jazz hands”—and, amazingly, it stuck. With only a few exceptions, for the rest of the night the benches used jazz hands instead of applause, and two-handed thumbs downs instead of booing.

As the night went on, Nunziata’s ruling that council couldn’t discuss the TCHC audit led councillors into increasingly creative linguistic acrobatics to try and refer to “the report which we cannot discuss,” “that thing he [the auditor general] wrote” (that one courtesy of Josh Matlow) and  “the report which shall not be named.” Xtra’s Andrea Houston called it “the Voldemort report,” which would probably make Case Ootes (who similarly couldn’t be named by council for legal reasons) Voldemort himself.

As council wound down, the exhaustion and frustration started taking their toll. Someone from the audience yelled, “Call the question!”—shorthand for ending debate and moving to the votes—and a bunch of councillors (not just Ford allies) responded with the silent approval of, you guessed it, jazz hands. Speaker Nunziata repeatedly called Raymond Cho “Councillor Lee,” at which point Councillor Chin Lee said, “We all look alike.” Oh, snap!

The opposition managed to score some real points in the debate: Ootes’s tenure as housing czar now has an expiry date (June 15), and some spending restrictions have been put on TCHC. Still, the meeting was unlike anything we’ve ever seen: jazz hands, Voldemort and entirely unintentional racism. City council in the Ford years keeps setting the crazy-bar higher and higher. At this rate, the June meeting will involve gladiatorial combat, ending with Glenn De Baeremaeker shouting, “Are you not entertained?
Thumbs down or jazz hands?