Torontonians have four more years of Premier Doug Ford and Mayor John Tory to contend with, and that won’t be easy.
The two secretly agreed to the terms of recently-passed “strong mayor” legislation. This affords Tory even more sway over city council by giving him the ability to veto bylaws and pass other bylaws with the support of only one third of council. He can also write the city’s budget, which council used to prepare.
As Ryan Kelpin writes on page 6, our municipal government is now one of the most anti-democratic just about anywhere.
For his part, Ford has also broken his promise to leave the Greenbelt – around 2,000,000 acres of protected greenspace, farmland, forests, wetlands and watersheds in Southern Ontario – untouched. He has opened up huge swathes of an area designed to restrict urban sprawl and promote climate resilience to real estate developers, some of whom are donors to Ford’s PC party.
With sprawl and McMansions on the horizon, people are pissed and have been organizing rallies to protect the Greenbelt and similar habitats across the province.
We also can’t forget Ford’s attack on workers in November, when he tried using the notwithstanding clause to take away education workers’ right to negotiate wages and to go on strike.
But the unions and workers stood strong, and after risking millions in fines for striking anyway, got the government to back down.
Yet, if legacy media is to be believed, civic engagement in Toronto is at an all time low.
On one hand, they say, volunteerism, interest in local politics, and voter turnout indicators are all down. In this year’s provincial election there was a record low turnout of only 43 per cent. In a province of over 14 million people, 1.9 million voters handed the Conservatives majority power at Queen’s Park. Similarly, in our recent municipal election, Tory won a third term as mayor with only 29 per cent of eligible voters showing up.
Torontonians, we’re told, simply don’t care about politics. But we don’t believe that.
It’s true that after nearly three years of navigating social distancing, isolation, work from home, virtual classrooms, overcrowded emergency rooms, death, grief, and more, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is wearing us thin.
Add to that how everyday people—those on the grind—have been systematically pushed out of civic spaces for years by the likes of Ford and Tory.
And still, legacy media continues endorsing these corporate lapdogs. Tory skipped most debates during the election campaign, and still the Toronto Star and other outlets endorsed him.
Media consensus, reduced representation, voter suppression, and strong mayor powers: it’s not hard to see how Toronto became a place of low voter turnout, uninspired electoral opposition, and daily struggle.
But we reject the idea that people are disengaged. Voting is just one piece of civic engagement, offering limited options and with serious barriers to involvement. But, of course, elections have serious repercussions.
So what do we do now, almost four years out from the next municipal and provincial elections, in a place that is getting more expensive all the time, where the shelter system is broken, the Greenbelt is under attack, and emboldened police forces continue to criminalize people living in poverty?
Just look around at the people and groups pushing for better. You’ll find some of them in these pages – Issue #2 of The Grind. Through community organizing, protest, art, music, the fight for a better city is well underway.
At the exact moment that we are facing intense suppression and corruption, we’re seeing more resistance than in a long time. From education workers to transit workers to experimental musicians, people in this city are resisting in beautiful and wonderful ways.
This article appeared in the 2022 Dec/2023 Jan issue.