During the Pride and trans flag raising outside of Toronto City Hall this year, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said she was looking forward to some company.
“As the only out member of the LGBT community who sits on city council, after the Oct 28 election I’m hopeful, and perhaps happily thinking, I might be joined by a few more,” she said.
Toronto — the fourth-largest city in North America and home to a large, diverse LGBT community — has only ever elected two openly queer councillors.
George Hislop, who ran in 1980, was the first openly gay man to do so. But not only did he not get elected, Mayor John Sewell also lost after being portrayed as too cozy with the gay community.
It wasn’t until Kyle Rae was elected in 1991 that Toronto city council had a gay elected official. And for 20 years, Rae was alone, until his retirement in 2010. That’s when Wong-Tam beat out Ken Chan, himself a gay man, for Rae’s old seat.
It looked like 2018 would be the year that LGBT people might finally get more than one representative on council, but Doug Ford’s imperious plan to cut the size of council in half will kill that dream in the cradle.
Wong-Tam, one of the most popular progressive councillors in the city, was set to run again in the newly drawn-up Ward 22, which wouldn’t include the Church-Wellesley Village.
That would have allowed LGBT candidates to make a run in Ward 25, where the gay village is located. And that’s exactly what was happening: Nicki Ward, a trans organizer and community mainstay, was making a go of it. And she would have faced off against Chris Moise, a Toronto school trustee and gay man.
George Smitherman, the former provincial Liberal cabinet minister and mayoral candidate, was attempting a political comeback in Ward 23. Kyle Ashley, a gay former police officer, was getting buzz for his longshot bid built on a platform of protecting cyclists and pedestrians.
Along with being the only gay councillor, Wong-Tam is one of the few non-white councillors in a city that boasts about its multiculturalism ad nauseum. Last election, most of the councillors elected were white.
But Ford’s vengeful attack on Toronto will result in even less representation for marginalized communities. It’s already near-impossible to defeat an incumbent. And open seats are often inherited by political dynasties as if they were the family silverware.
After all, that’s how Ford himself was elected to Toronto city council.
If Ford was actually concerned about the efficiency of council, like he claims, there are a lot of options he could look into. Allowing candidates to run as parties and switching to an at-large system might help. Giving the mayor more official power is another option.
Or even just providing the city the taxation powers it needs to be able to operate the country’s largest governments.
But of course, this move isn’t about getting things done. It’s about petty personal vendettas and the joy of watching incumbent councillors bloody each other to hold on to their jobs.
Ontarians didn’t vote for this. This was nowhere in the Progressive Conservative platform.
From one side of his mouth, Ford bemoans the lack of consultation from the Wynne government on sex education. But thousands of parents, educators and experts were consulted through a years-long process. Which begs the question: who did Ford consult on this? Hypocrisy is as natural to Ford as breathing.
And as with everything the Ford government has done so far, this will hit marginalized communities the most. But Ford doesn’t care. The only question left is: what will everyone else do about it?