4 min

‘Are you listening Mayor Ford?’

The left unites during marathon city hall meeting

The many faces of Mayor Rob Ford. Credit: Andrea Houston

When activist Nicole Greenspan told Mayor Rob Ford that people living with HIV/AIDS will suffer if community groups collapse, Ford watched the clock on the wall behind her and drummed his fingers on the desk, just before cutting her off at exactly the three-minute mark.

Where’s the compassion, asks Greenspan, who spoke at the marathon executive committee meeting on July 28 on behalf of AIDS Action Now and all Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP) grants, an envelope that funds 42 HIV/AIDS-prevention projects. “If these programs and drug prevention initiatives were no longer provided, we would lose proven methods of reducing HIV.”

These are dangerous considerations, she says.

“I’ve been increasingly shocked tonight how the mayor has been willing to silence and restrain deputants who may have more to add, and I’m dismayed the KPMG people are no longer here to listen,” she tells Xtra. “They have not considered the health impacts of the cuts they are suggesting.”

There were 169 citizens who spoke during the “City Hall Sleepover.” One after another they pleaded with the mayor and council to continue funding programs and services that save lives, give seniors independence, keep youth safe and healthy, improve literacy, help new Canadians find jobs, rescue victims of violence and bring thousands of Torontonians joy through art and culture.

There were 344 citizens who registered to depute, and hundreds of others stayed up all night tweeting, cheering and booing. Some gave fiery speeches, others told touching stories. There was a puppet show, a Broadway number and a few brave individuals broke down in tears. In neighbouring spillover rooms, the mood was thrilling, bursting with passionate people. More people filled the rotunda, watching a projector on the wall. As the night drew on and more people came, so did food, coffee and encouraging words.

About halfway through, someone coined the phrase “People’s Filibuster,” and it stuck.

Whether he knows it or not, Ford sparked a movement that night. “This is what democracy looks like,” was tweeted more than once.

Lisa Wong, 29, who spoke on behalf of the Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS), notes that the organization is the only one of its kind in North America for queer-identified Asian community members, with volunteers that speak numerous languages. The thought of that service being decimated terrifies her.

According to AIDS Action Now, there are 17,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Toronto, and one in five gay men are living with HIV.

But as startling as the figures were for most people watching, many on the executive committee — Ford especially — appeared unfazed.

While Joan Anderson spoke about the Toronto HIV/AIDS Network, Ford got up and went over to talk to deputy mayor Doug Holyday, before sharing a laugh.

Buffy Childerhose expressed everyone’s frustration: “Are you listening, Mayor Ford? Do I have to call your cellphone to get your attention? Is that what it takes?”

At a media scrum in his office, Ford said he was paying attention to all the pleas. “Hey, I’m listening. They’re taxpayers. Probably a lot of them are union folks, but I can’t say they all are.”

Activist Dave Meslin, who returned to city hall after changing into his pajamas, called the meeting’s format “inherently disrespectful and insulting.”

“I’m confused because we heard about this immense and powerful Ford Nation that could be mobilized, but I don’t see a single one of them here behind me today. If they can’t take the time to be here, why should their viewpoint be respected?”

Meslin also described a second gravy train, a “rightwing Tea Party ideology” never mentioned during the election. “That’s not what you said at the debates, Mayor.”

That ideology is creating a diametrically divided city, split between downtown versus suburb. Ward 7 Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti continued to widen that divide when he spoke to reporters after the meeting wrapped up. So, where were all the people from the suburbs?

If people in the suburbs can’t make it to city hall for the meeting, Mammoliti suggested the city should “bring the meetings to North York, to Scarborough and other parts of the city because, believe it or not, a lot of people are working. I said that before. They can’t come down to city hall. They just can’t.”

“[Going through the night] is a tactic to get the job done,” he said, denying accusations from reporters that the marathon was actually a tactic to scare people away. “Most [executive committee members] wanted to stay the night to ensure that that happens.”

Another deputant, Bob Kinnear, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, calls Ford out on the growing divide. He says downtown Toronto taxpayers contribute a $1 subsidy, approximately, to every rider, even “the thousands of folks who come in to the city from the 905 every day.”

Kinnear also says that cancelling night buses will attack those who need the service the most. “Yes, let’s make it harder for those that work nights and don’t own a car.”

“And the idea of making it harder for disabled Torontonians to use Wheel Trans is unbelievable. Why would we be even thinking about making life more difficult for the disabled, many of whom are seniors?”

While rightwing councillors kept their eyes on the clock, leftwing councillors fought back with spirited questions. Davis: “Would you say food is a nice-to-have or a must-have?”

Ward 14 Councillor Gord Perks said simply, “I heard from Toronto tonight.” Hopefully everyone was listening.

“It’s very clear that Mayor Ford has no idea what kind of government he wants, but it’s damn clear that the citizens of Toronto do,” Perks said. “The mayor of Toronto has no idea what he wants to do because he got elected on a false promise that he could cut costs without cutting services,” only to discover that’s not what Torontonians want.

Perks reminded that the city still doesn’t know what the 2011 surplus will be heading into December’s budget talks. The city manager is projecting revenues “way lower” than 2010, partly due to the loss of the $60 vehicle registration tax and, likely, the land transfer tax. “But the numbers that the mayor’s team are bringing in are grossly inflated,” he said.

“We have some challenges, I’ll admit that. We have to keep trying to get the province to fund public transit, we have to deliver services as efficiently as we can, and we may have to make a few little cuts here and there, that’s true,” Perks says. “What we don’t need is a wholesale slaughter of the services Torontonians care about that make the city worth living in.”

Read more about the core services review and threats to queer institutions here.