The Ford Fallout: “Being a councillor now is like watching from afar with fingers crossed”

The Ford Fallout: “Being a councillor now is like watching from afar with fingers crossed”

Parkdale-High Park’s Gord Perks on the slashing of city council. Part 5 in our series

Photo by Vanessa Heins

Read all the Ford fallout stories:

“Before doug ford became premier, Toronto had a Goldilocks government—not too big, not too small. Council as a whole could tackle the challenges that come with running a major city, while individual councillors could take the pulse of each neighbourhood. Ford’s decision to cut council nearly in half ruined this delicate balance. The ways in which Torontonians used to influence decision-making has been cut in half, too.

“Municipal government is at its best in a school gym or a church basement. Neighbours, councillors and public servants work as a team designing a playground or a safer street, or making any of a hundred local decisions. When the premier cut the number of councillors, he didn’t change the number of local issues that need attention. Now, councillors are faced with more meetings than there are evenings, so we miss a lot of them. Instead of being there to read the room and spot the consensus moment, I often have to decide what to do based on a post-meeting briefing with my office staff. The conversation and the decision are divorced.

“Bigger issues are handled by one of council’s committees. The great thing about committee work has always been listening to all the people who come to city hall to give us advice. With fewer councillors, we’ve had to reduce the number of committees. Again, the amount of work hasn’t changed, so each committee has more to do. This puts time pressure on committees, and too often we have to shorten the time available to the public. We learn less, and it shows.

“Some city issues are managed by special boards: the TTC and the police are examples. Last term, councillors occupied 388 seats on 170 boards. Now, most boards have no councillors, and the rest have fewer. We appoint citizens instead. Before Ford, councillors collectively interviewed more than 900 applicants for these spots. With fewer councillors, we had to hand off a lot of the interviewing to city staff. Council still approves them, but we often don’t get to sit with the candidates and get to know their hopes for the city before we appoint them.

“Then there’s council itself. With fewer members, debates are a lot shorter. This may sound good, but longer debates give councillors time to huddle together and discuss what we’ve heard from the people we represent before we cast our votes.

“Another change is a huge increase in the number of items that go to council without going through committee, because there isn’t room on crowded committee agendas. When this happens, there’s no chance for the public to speak to us before we vote. Most of these issues are approved without any council debate.

“Being a councillor used to mean being at the centre of a rich conversation about our city. Now we mostly rush through overlong to-do lists. Being an engaged Torontonian used to mean being part of that same conversation. Now it’s more like watching from afar with fingers crossed.”


Where are they now?

Incumbent councillors who lost their wards when Ford slashed city council, and what they’re up to

Mary Fragedakis is now executive director of the GreekTown on the Danforth BIA: “I loved what I did. I miss the relationships I built with community groups. People were unhappy with the way the election unfolded, specifically that one councillor would have to serve such a large constituency. That’s to be expected. I’m trying not to look backwards too much, because I don’t think
it’s healthy.”


Joe Mihevc is now a visiting professor of geography and urban studies at York University: “It has taken me a year to transition from the loss. I call myself a recovering politician. Doug Ford’s agenda was to cause chaos with his former colleagues at city council—and he did a good job of it. People in my former constituency were in shock. They thought they were well served and wanted to
continue with me.”


Lucy Troisi is now executive director at the Cabbagetown Youth Centre: “I miss the day-to-day interaction with the residents in my ward. Just the other day, a gentleman approached me in a store. He had lived at 650 Parliament Street, the building that had that terrible fire. We supported him through that ordeal. He gave me a big hug and said I was the best person he had ever met.”


Frank Di Giorgio is now semi-retired and consults for the Toronto Local Appeal Body: “I thought the timing was right to consider downsizing council. The number of people involved in decision-making should be reduced. The new council is looking after double the population, but it’s easier to prioritize the important issues and plan for the future. My son got elected, so I keep abreast of politics through him.”


Giorgio Mammoliti is now COO at Pharma: “A smaller council was needed. It’s not just about saving money, it’s about making sure council runs efficiently. Personally, being out of politics has been refreshing. I’m much more relaxed. But I do feel as if I’ve abandoned my initiative of developing York West. When I get calls from former constituents, I feel a bit guilty that I’m not there.”


Jon Burnside is now consulting for event management firm Hillfield Park Productions: “I went from 100 kilometres per hour to zero pretty quickly. I tried to put things in perspective, because people lose their jobs every day. The biggest disappointment was that I was no longer doing something I love. People in this city have real challenges and I’m disappointed I can’t help them anymore.”


John Campbell is on the board of Toronto Community Housing and advises Sutherland Corporation: “I’ve been trying to establish myself in meaningful, issues-based work. I’ve had no calls or notes of complaint from my former residents about the service provided by my successor, but I think every councillor re-elected in 2018 will concede that their interaction with the local citizenry has been diminished.”


Michelle Holland is director, Ontario Public Sector, at PwC: “There could have been more consultation before they made changes to the election. But most residents, myself included, believe that council functions better with fewer councillors. After the election, I took six months off to focus on my health and wellness. My new job has a better
work-life balance.”