On January 17th, concerned citizens of Toronto and the GTA congregated at City Hall in response to the proposed budget cuts of Rob Ford and the City Council. Essential citizen services such as daycare, shelters and transitional housing, the mobile health care unit for immigrant women, community pools, and education were slated for significant cuts that would affect those who are most vulnerable in our communities; visible minorities, immigrants and the impoverished. Libraries, the Hardship Fund and TTC were also slated for cuts and the High Park Zoo which was established in 1918 for the free enjoyment of the public was facing closure.
The Council Chambers were filled with citizens taking active participation in the political process, but not everyone was allowed in. When Speaker Coun acknowledged the presence of Fieldstone Day School who were there “to learn more about their local government”, it became known to those present that the students had been denied entrance into the Chambers. The issue was eventually resolved and the students were allowed to enter the meeting. This would not be the last denial of the citizen’s right to be present for an open Council Chamber meeting that day.
Councillor Michelle Berardinetti proposed to increase funding to the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre which is a service that delivers clinical sexual health services to immigrant women who are a targeted priority population. She argued that her proposal would put gender equality and women’s health at the fore-front of the budget.
Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest) fought to protect transitional housing. With three shelters slated for closure, Bellwoods House, Birchmount Residence and Downsview Dells; Crawford was concerned about where those who needed this essential service would go as the in-take demand would not diminish. He agreed that an alternative model would be more effective and needs to be found. However, transitional housing needs to stay in place until this is accomplished.
Councillor Gloria Lindsay (Ward 4 Etobicoke Center) Luby was applauded by citizens present when she voiced her concerns regarding the library cuts, stating: “It’s 1984 all over again.”
Councillor John Parker (Ward 26 Don Valley West) brought up the point that when he had previously asked questions regarding the particulars of the motion on capital spending and operating costs, “the answer [he] received was that ‘We have question period, but we don’t have answer period’.” An interesting answer to be sure. “I do wonder how we live with ourselves as we are going to provide subsidized daycare facilities to some families and not to others,” he stated. “That was a discussion that didn’t seem to be welcome this morning although I tried to introduce the subject for discussion and debate.”
While councillors in overwhelming numbers had fought to voice the concerns that their constituents had brought forward to them, not all were supportive. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7 York West) had several outbursts of frustration with those counsellors who had a proposal that he did not side with, or those who were simply seeking clarification and understanding of a proposal. An example of said outbursts would be his behavior towards Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby which was reprimanded by The Speaker who defended that Councillor Luby had “the right to ask the question.”
With such ‘hot topics’ on the floor in Chambers, citizens were clambering to be present to hear the proceedings, but many were denied their right of entrance into the meeting despite many seats being open for spectators. The Council Chamber is on floor 3C and only accessible by elevator. As many citizens quickly learned, when it has been decided that noone was further permitted entrance, noone else is getting in. Those who took the elevators discovered that they were being taken to Floor 4 where the elevator would remain until the ground floor was selected. The doors would not open and floor 3C would be skipped. Citizens crowded the main area on the ground floor where they could view the meeting on large screens, their only option to participate in their local political process.
We asked security why there had been no process set in place for accommodating all interested citizens and why the Chambers were locked when there were still seats empty, but they did not have any interest in answering our questions.
Reported by Anna
*All quotations and information were taken from live film footage by the MediaWrench team.
Media Wrench presents: Occupy Talks: What Gravy Train? Austerity, Finance, and the Polarization of Wealth
MediaWrench went down to Occupy Talks to present it for you, and we had a really great time doing it!
Peaking at about 75-100 people of all ages, the turnout blew my mind. The organization and focus of the event only shows the positive directionality of the Occupy Movement in North America, especially here at home, in Toronto, Canada. The crowd’s thorough mix shows that this was an issue that was completely relevant and perfectly timed considering the austerity measures we are facing across the board. I’ve always said that the most important next step for this intellectual, and what some would call spiritual, revolution will be to bring in the people who have dedicated their lives to knowing the finer points of the problems that we all know are in our hearts and ever-growing. The maturation of the Occupy Movement is moving at a pace most cannot deny is truly impressive.
Our guest speakers focused appropriately enough on the systematic denial of workers’ benefits through union busting, the systematic status quo of the business narrative, and the need to focus on long term goals, whilst celebrating the singular victories within sight. This talk takes place, literally, the day after Mayor Rob Ford’s budget was rejected piece-by-piece due to trying to fix the problems of our community by taking more money from the poorest of society and children. Very little of what Mayor Ford had originally intended to cut from the budget actually survived the process of the budget meeting. And the visibly ‘subversive’ council member who had talked sense into his fellow city hall colleagues, Councillor Josh Colle, saw the necessity and urgency to step back and rethink the logic of Toronto’s bizarre proposed taxes – such as the $2 per head child-tax for children using small wading pools across Toronto. This is a major victory for all reasonably hopeful citizens! The political system affects you. We can all, more or less, admit for the first time in a long while that we have undeniably affected the system in a tangible manner. The lesson is this: the politicians who are in power now may not agree with the logic of fostering and nurturing our population. Rather than simply catering to the business narrative and the credit scores decided outside our country; sooner or later, the opponents of these politicians are going to acknowledge and bolster the public outcry. They will naturally and organically replace those leaders who are out of touch with the populace they are hired to serve, once and for all.
Linda McQuaig is an acclaimed Canadian journalist and best-selling author. She currently writes an op-ed column for the Toronto Star and has written eight books on politics and economics, including It’s the Crude, Dude and most recently, The Trouble With Billionaires.
Jim Stanford is one of Canada’s best-known economists. He is the founder of the Progressive Economics Forum and writes a regular column for the Globe and Mail. He has written seven books, including his latest, Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism.
Nathan Okonta is a community activist and researcher, studying the links between schools and prisons. He is a former member of the Metro Network for Social Justice and is currently a member of the Network for Pan-African Solidarity Toronto, and the Tabono Institute.
Sam Gindin is a respected academic and intellectual. Until recently, he was a professor of Political Economy at York University. He regularly publishes in academic journals and has written numerous books. His latest is In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives.
Lana Brite and Occupy Talks have set up the next generation of forum. These conversations draw such a crowd simply by utilizing a professional and deeply intellectual approach to activism. The conversation we could not show you, between guests and speakers through the Q&A, was handled with grace. It was a true credit to the Occupy Movement itself here in Canada and also aligned perfectly with the respect for a studied mind that I believe was at the core of Occupy Toronto in its infant stages back in St. James Park. The key to success lies not in brute force, but rather, in expertly applied pressure.
Written by Kris Harrison
Contributions for this piece: Kris Harrison, Jared Khan & Roberto Horta