Better Ballots Town Hall

You know, even without any delays it is a long subway ride up the Yonge Street line to North York Centre. I was aroused from my reading material somewhere between Lawrence and York Mills, wondering if I’d read through a stop. You go really fast for a long time which, if my understanding of the physics of motion is solid (and it probably isn’t), means that you are traveling great distances.

Why would you be doing that, you might rightly ask. Heading up to the first Better Ballots Town Hall meeting, I will inform you, held in committee room #3 of the North York Civic Centre, home of the former city hall of the former city of North York. Its empty early evening halls steeped in the history where colossi of the political scene like Mel Lastman once strutted and fretted. The air remains pungent of past power, reeking of… shoe polish. Or maybe it’s the cleaning agent that’s being applied to a floor off down one of the corridors.

Better Ballots, if you don’t know and you should, is an organization committed to increasing voter turnout at the municipal level. The website can give you much better presentation of their mission but in a nutshell: less than 40% of eligible voters voted in the last municipal election in Toronto; 14 of the 44 councillors were elected with less than 50% of ballots cast; only 1 incumbent councillor was defeated while another won his ward with just 20% of the vote; the council make-up is wildly unreflective of the city’s diversity that it claims to represent. Better Ballots wants to change all that.

Local political impresario, Dave Meslin, is the Better Ballots project coordinator and has been toiling away in the margins of election reform for much of the past decade including 2006’s City Idol where 4 candidates were chosen to run for council seats in that year’s election. He chaired last night’s town hall in an amiable but focused manner, promoting inclusiveness with the 25 or so of us there while not allowing things to careen too far off topic. Like any good promoter of a cause, Meslin made sure to surround himself with other smart, articulate advocates.

There was Desmond Cole, one of the winners of the City Idol project, and now an organizer with iVote Toronto. Another Better Ballots representative, Rob Newman, talked about campaign finance reform. Julia Deads from the Toronto City Summit Alliance moderated the town hall portion of the meeting, gently but with the necessary firmness to keep the proceedings flowing. If I had any claim to being an actual journalist, there were a couple other members of the panel whose names I would’ve made note of but didn’t. One was from Fair Vote Canada, a group promoting more proportional representation at all levels of government. I want to say Jeff Peck but, maybe somebody out there who attended the meeting with much better powers of observation could correct me on that. [It was Mark Greenan not Jeff Peck from Fair Vote Canada who were referring to. Thank you to mayoral candidate Sonny Yeung for clearing that up for us. — ed.]

The intent of this town hall meeting (and the 3 others planned at various city locations throughout April) was twofold. The first was to present 14 proposals for discussion about possible reform. These included such things as extending the vote to permanent residents and lowering the voting age to 16, the pros and cons of municipal parties and term limits, several options on ballot structures and districting and the above mentioned campaign finance reforms.

Along with providing information, these town hall gatherings are also about promoting advocacy. Ideas are all well and good but they die on the vine without a movement to take them to a wider audience. The second aim of the meetings is to initiate a grassroots movement to begin pushing for the reform options that garner the most interest from those who attend the meetings and vote on the ballot provided.

Despite what you might think, grassroot movement making ain’t pretty. It’s not all Julia Roberts’ Erin Brockoviches and Meryl Streep’s Karen Silkwoods but rather a long, tough slog through outsider-ville. For every smart, dedicated activist and proponent, there are those who wear their exclusion from the mainstream loudly and proudly, sometimes hijacking the proceedings to grind an axe or to just simply have their voices heard. This manifested itself last night when a handful of mayoral and council candidates took the floor to speak their minds. More campaigning than listening, they mostly took up time and space rather than contributed to the discussion.

Still, the dialogue was far more informative and exciting than any of the claptrap and bullshit that has passed for debate and deliberation so far in campaign 2K10®©. These people truly want to change how things are done in Toronto and to explore the ideas that will ultimately translate into electing those who best represent the widest community views at City Hall. It was time well spent on the subway hearing them talk about it firsthand.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

7 Responses to Better Ballots Town Hall

  1. Sonny Yeung says:

    From Fair Vote it was Mark Greenan & Larry Gordon. The turnout by my count was 31 including the 8 discussants.
    I stayed on topic and proposed Mandatory voting to improve voter turnout. Recruiting more women, visible minorities and LGBTQ candidates to run as possible solutions.
    Mark State and I were invited guests. David Vallance who will run for mayor has yet to declare and Susan Gapka(Ward 27) made some good observations.
    If the Better Ballots are serious then they should get some candidates to address this issue rather than go to the average joe for their ideal ballot.

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear Mr. Yeung,

      Thank you for the names and head count. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke are simply dreadful at remembering either.

      We never meant to suggest that the candidates didn’t offer up good points during the course of the evening. It was just our opinion that the ratio between good points and time taken to express them was not wide as it should have been. Wide? Is that right? Can a ratio be wide? More points that hadn’t already been made and less time making them is what we’re trying to get at.

      We don’t think it is an either/or situation between candidates and average joes. Candidates will only address the issue if they feel there is serious momentum behind it and the only way to generate momentum is by bringing the issue to the public in the form like these town hall meetings that the people at Better Ballots are hosting. It is early days yet and not all candidates are as willing to give their time to relatively low publicity issues as you, Mssrs. State and Vallance and Ms. Gapka appear to be.

      • Sonny Yeung says:

        Alright, there is a Scarborough event but the organizers will have to manage the City Hall one!

        I was reading the Metro and found that Jeff Beck is releasing a new CD. In other news from the t.o.night; the band Hole is releasing a new CD in 12 years.

        I ran into Susan at the Allan Gardens rally & march and she mentioned this article…
        http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/794899–forum-looks-at-why-people-aren-t-voting

      • cityslikr says:

        Dear Mr. Yeung,

        We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke are a little confused, even more so than usual.

        Did you mean to say that Hole is releasing their first CD in 12 years or that they will be releasing a CD sometime in 2022? If the latter, is there a way to pre-order it that far in advance?

        Moreover, CD? Do you mean those round plastic thingies with the hole (no pun intended) in the middle and you had to insert them into one of them thar big eatin’ machines with all them buttons and lights on `em? How quaint.

  2. penny says:

    What were you reading that aroused you? I would like a copy….I think you were just roused, no?
    And I believe its “twofold” not two fold…unless its origami.
    And really, lower the voting age to 16? Seriously, that would promote greater voter turnout? Harumph…kids today…harumph.
    But I expect the subway ride was nice. Springtime in North York…

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear Penny,

      It wasn’t the reading material so much as the slow, rhythmic motion of the subway car that… oh, never mind. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke duly note the spelling errors and are off to correct them forthwith!

      Thank you.

  3. Sonny Yeung says:

    I should have stopped at; In other news from the t.o.night; the band Hole is releasing a new CD

    When I was at Allan Gardens, mayoral candidate: Baquie Ghazi gave me some of his lit. not knowing I too am a candidate. So I know something about his campaign of social justice…

    As for Mr. State and his image, you could describe him as 67. I heard him groan at the meeting when I joked about being the mayor with hair.(chuckle)

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