BY RAEANNE QUINTON AND ANDREA HOUSTON – The first thing I noticed when entering Toronto council’s two-day budget meeting was the glaringly obvious lack of Rob Ford in the room. His money-pinching plans for the city were regrettably being addressed by 348 Toronto residents fighting for their community centres, libraries, transit system, shelters, non-profits, nutrition programs and health centres. Although the mayor is not on the budget committee, you’d think he would at least pop his head in at some point just to say, “Hey, I care, I exist, I’m listening to my residents.”
As was the case at an earlier meeting, delegates were restricted to three-minute allotments to voice their concerns and offer an alternative plan. Budget chair Mike Del Grande wasn’t shy about interrupting people and cutting them off when they started to go overtime, and by the end of the night people simply gave up. As numbers and names mumbled out of Del Grande’s mouth, they were greeted with silence. The diehards patiently waited their turn, hoping their 180-second pleas would sway the heart strings of city councillors to keep funding the organizations people in this city desperately need. Organizations that have needed to be properly introduced and funded by the government for more than 50 years. I’m talking about women’s health clinics, HIV/AIDS organizations, proper childcare centres. As one woman eloquently put it, “Have you no shame?” As I watched this scenario unfold, and thought about how sad it is that we’re cutting services to the people in this city who need them the most, I watched my Twitter screen pop out “21 new tweets” under #TOpoli.
Behind city hall’s tight-belted approach to dealing with democracy, there is an active conversation happening. And it doesn’t involve waiting on a plastic chair all day to nervously spit out how you don’t think de-funding the Toronto Library is a good idea. It’s a meme collective, where people are posting their thoughts however they want and whenever they want. And it’s important that people keep doing it. Without social media, without people finding a way to collect and to fight for what’s important to them, they’re just going to get swept under the carpet. Watching the list of tweets get longer as the list of delegates shortens encourages me. Behind the repeated nagging of “Your time is up” at city hall, I know that, at least, there is something else that people can turn to. And these voices are not so easily silenced.
Hell, even Rob Ford has a Twitter account.