Having attended Wednesday night’s casino consultation at City Hall, I was all prepared to write up something about it but was beaten to the punch on almost every front. Before deciding not to follow suit, I had sketched out a rough outline of my thoughts on the event which included — very, very tongue in cheek — some variation of the word ‘hijack’. I thought it kind of funny to use such an extreme word to describe what was really a fairly modest twist in the turn of events that had actually transpired.
Lo and behold, yesterday’s coverage of the meeting was rife with hijackings and coups as if the councillors who’d opened up a committee room for the people present to actually voice their opinions had burned the fucking rotunda to the ground on their way up the stairs. My God! They Stood On Chairs!! Anarchists!
Now, I hope I’m not jaded enough not to believe that, in organizing the casino consultations as they did, city staff were trying to create a safe, dry space to discuss and inform the public on what is certainly a very heatedly divisive issue. Here’s how Hamutal Dotan described the set up in Torontoist yesterday. “Residents entered the City Hall rotunda to find the usual assortment of open house accoutrements: printed information sheets, large posterboards with diagrams and key details, blank survey forms to fill out, and name-tagged City staff on hand to answer questions.”
Or try this: Go to the Toronto Casino Consultation on the city’s website, open up every link that’s contained within that and print out the pages. Blow them up to placard size and imagine them all set out in a horseshoe fashion in the rotunda of City Hall, with hundreds of people milling about, trying to garner information on numbers, locations, etc., and figure out which name-tagged city staffer to pose their questions to.
My more cynical nature screams Information Dump! You know, that standard practice of overwhelming with sheer volume, hiding details in plain sight. For instance, I only just a few minutes ago learned via Twitter that under questioning from a councillor this morning, city staff admitted the city will have no say on the ultimate location of a casino if it agrees to host one. An interesting and pertinent tidbit to know but I’m having a little trouble finding that in all this consultation material.
It is my experience, almost exclusively anecdotal, that while it’s good and important to sign petitions you are passionate about, I have seen too many introduced at council or committee meetings, stacks of signed petitions, placed before our elected officials. Their presence temporarily felt before being carted off to places unknown. It’s an integral part of the democratic process. Just not the only part.
In no way do I mean to sound as if the fix is in and that our input doesn’t matter. I’m just suggesting that when City Hall opens its doors for public participation it should include time and space to speak their minds and to have their questions and concerns addressed directly. That certainly wasn’t the case at Wednesday’s consultation.
So yeah, a group of councillors took it upon themselves to present that opportunity to the public who’d come out. But why did they have to stand up on the chairs?! There was no microphone to make any sort of announcement, no stage upon which to get everyone’s attention above the din of hundreds of people conversing. Horror of horrors! A couple councillors got up on a chair to announce an impromptu addition to the evening’s planned activities.
“Again, if you want to have an actual conversation,” Councillor Gord Perks said from high atop a chair, “some of us will be gathering up in Committee room 2. Thank you.”
While I saw no selective shepherding (Only anti-casino types welcome!) or vetting of who got into committee room 2, it was certainly almost entirely one-sided in its No Casino tone. The five or six people who did get up to speak their allotted three minutes in favour of at least considering bringing a casino to town were treated mostly respectfully by the gathered crowd although a couple were subjected to some heckling.
In fact, I wished there were more pro-casino voices to speak. I want to hear their side. Representatives of the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition were in attendance but, for whatever reason, chose not to run their $400 million/year idea past anyone other than the collected media cameras and microphones.
Councillor Adam Vaughan had the last word of the informal bull session and, like Councillor Perks does in the video in the Torontoist article, he urged everyone gathered to fill out all the forms, paperwork and online feedback that city staff had provided. He stressed the importance of doing so in terms of having the public’s voices heard, recorded and presented to city council for consideration. I’m not particularly sure what was so circus-like about that or what there was any councillor had to apologize for.
Call it a disruption or departure from the planned proceedings if you want. But please. Wednesday night was hardly a coup or hijacking.
— sanely submitted by Cityslikr