Sometimes democracy scares the living shit out of me.
There. I said it. To hear your fellow citizens, gathered in a room, discussing matters they’ve clearly not spent much time actually thinking about, and feeling entitled to expound upon… Yikes! It makes you wonder how the hell we ever moved ourselves out of the caves and into village huts.
Magically, however, it only takes one sublime moment of, I don’t know, nobility? stateliness? intergrity? or maybe just simple frankness to strip away that accumulating layer of cynical misanthropy. You sit back and relax a bit. Yeah, there it is. That’s what this is all about.
Just in case you think this some random musings from someone who’s spent a little too much time watching Toronto’s city council over the past 3 years or so, no. No, it isn’t. At least, not entirely.
I attended last night’s information session given by city staff to those looking to be appointed Ward 3 councillor next month, filling in the vacancy left behind by Doug Holyday’s by-election elevation to Queen’s Park. There were some 50 or so hopefuls it looked like to my eye although I expect there won’t be that many making presentations to the Etobicoke-York Community Council on October 1st given the very short lag time between last night’s meeting and today’s noon deadline to submit the proper paperwork. As my friend Himy Syed suggested afterward, the quick turnaround might be in place in order to weed out those candidates who couldn’t find their way to City Hall with a 15 hour head start.
For sure, there were the fringe candidates, let’s call them, in attendance. Probably the most notable, Peter Caragianakos his card said, the guy looking to have his dog, Ozzy Spartacus Caragianakos his card said, appointed Ward 3 councillor. Now, I have no problem with someone taking the piss out of the process, especially one as contentious as this was with the appointment versus by-election debate that occurred. A gesture of protest. I get it.
Mr. Caragianakos, speaking for Ozzy I assume, wasn’t quite sure who it was he’d the dog would be giving a presentation to. “What’s this York council?” he asked. “Who’s on it? Will Mammoliti be there?”
You really want to be a city councillor, even an appointed one? Do a little homework, huh? And if you think I’m being too elitist about it. Later on in the evening, I heard Mr. Caragianakos berating some poor soul in the audience about the ‘section 37 shakedown of developers that Rob Ford exposed’. Oh, so you’ve heard all about that bogus claim but remain in the dark about council committee structures. Hey! Maybe your dog Ozzy might make a perfect Etobicoke councillor.
That’s the amazingly infuriating thing about municipal politics. No matter how disengaged from the process, how uninterested you are in the procedural aspects of it, everybody lives it on a daily basis. Driving on the roads, taking a streetcar, getting your garbage collected, hanging out in a park, it’s all city business. So everybody is an expert. They could do things better. How hard could it be after all?
A woman in the audience whose name I didn’t catch, who wasn’t working the room, handing out cards, she asked if city staff could give her the highlights of what it is a city councillor does. Ah. Some humility. What is it exactly I’d be doing if I were to be appointed city councillor? The job description of what I might be applying to do.
Up steps John Elvidge, Director of the Council Secretariat, to patiently give a quick overview of a councillor’s role and duties. The number of times council meets. Standing committees. Constituency work.
As angry as we might get at our elected officials, we should never lose sight of the indefatigable work the civil service does in this city. We love to deride them as fat cat, 9-5ers, living it up aboard the gravy train but that simply reveals a Mr. Caragianakos level of unwarranted derision. It’s a frank admission that you don’t understand in the slightest how this city actually operates, and operates as well as it does.
My feeling of goodwill received a further boost as a woman sitting a couple chairs away noticed me thumbing away at my phone and asked if I was the media. How do I answer that question? Well, sort of, I guess. I write about municipal politics, mostly for my own amusement.
She had picked up the submission forms and I asked her if she was going to apply for the appointment. She wasn’t sure and I wondered why. “I don’t feel like I have the supervisory experience necessary to do the job.”
I just wanted to fucking hug her.
She didn’t have the supervisory experience. Again with the humility and total possession of self-awareness. Like we couldn’t use more of that at city council, am I right?
I gently suggested that supervisory experience shouldn’t really be the deal breaker in making her decision. In fact, just the opposite in some ways. We could use more people on council not looking to play boss.
After listening to my off-the-cuff spiel, the woman nodded her head thoughtfully before telling me that she had a bad habit of ‘self-exclusion’. “I tend to eliminate myself from consideration.”
And my heart grew at least 3 times.
The fact is, there’s probably a pretty short shortlist already drawn up to fill the ward 3 vacancy. Less than 10% of the people thinking about applying for the position have even the slimmest of slim hopes in hell of getting the appointment. Probably closer to 5%. That’s just the nature of the beast and probably how it should be. Even a placeholder councillor is too important a role to fill haphazardly or as a lark.
How many of these possible applicants know that? Tough to say. It’s difficult to imagine anyone unaware of the most basic functions of city council would be in the know enough to realize their bid was an impossibly long long shot. Cynicism comes easily in politics, though, so perhaps some were there just to confirm their belief about how corrupt our political system was.
That’s the easy route down the rabbit hole leading to apathy and disinterest. It’s not only uninteresting. It’s harmful in its toxicity.
And still, at least a couple people – I suspect I’m grossly underestimating here based purely on anecdotal evidence from one night of crowd watching — remain immune to such civic poison through either sheer naïveté or a simple refusal to roll over and play dead, and they take their time to at least consider throwing their hat into the ring of municipal politics. That’s where it starts. That’s what we need to embrace.
All the rest is just noisy bullshit.
— humbly submitted by Cityslikr