Members of the Executive Committee during the first meeting of this term of council. Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.
Remember back in elementary school, when a group of kids would invite you to come play a game with them, explain all the rules, but then, as the game went on, continuously change the rules so the outcome would inevitably be that they won? It was an exercise in frustration and futility. No matter what you did or how much you tried to play by their rules, the outcome was always the same.
This was what came to mind yesterday, watching the Executive Committee as they held their marathon meeting that lasted almost 24 hours as Mayor Ford & Co. heard from, according to the Toronto Star’s count, 169 out of the 344 citizens who had signed up to speak about the core service review done by KPMG. The narrative that Ford & Co. attempted to construct—that the people coming to speak were all from labour and special interest groups—was refuted time and time again as people from all backgrounds and wards came to speak (including the now famous yelly granny from North York).
That the meeting lasted continuously until there were no more people left to speak was no accident, nor was it necessary. The meeting could have been capped at a certain time of night and then reconvened again Friday morning. This would have allowed more people, many of whom were probably unable to spend their wee hours of the night sitting and waiting to be called upon, to participate. This was an intentional move to limit the amount of engagement and discourage those wanting to speak from actually doing so.
There was also the motion Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) put forward to limit speaking times from the usual five minutes down to three minutes. This motion passed easily, with Ford voting in favour, even though he had earlier said that everyone would get five minutes to speak. Hours later, a motion to cut speaking time for councillors from two minutes to one minute failed in a tie, but then Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale), who had been absent during the vote, walked back in and was allowed to vote late, thus allowing the motion to pass. Presto, change-o.
Then there was the one-minute chant of “save our libraries” during head of library workers’ union Maureen O’Reilly’s deputation, after which Mammoliti exclaimed that if this happened again he would move a motion to end the meeting and hear no more deputations. Ford agreed, saying: “If a councillor moves a motion to end this meeting, it’s over. I am being very democratic. I’m being more than fair.” You expected him afterwards to look around the table at all the committee members, saying: Anyone? Anyone want to move that motion? No? Damn.
Or there was Ford, pressing the button to start a speaker’s time before they got to the table, or moving down the list so quickly that speakers who were seated in overflow rooms couldn’t get there fast enough.
This kind of dirty game–playing behavior is not limited, however, to just this one Executive Committee meeting — it has permeated Ford & Co.’s entire term so far. (Think the behind-the-back motion to kill the Jarvis bike lanes that sprung out of nowhere and without consultation with the councillor in whose ward that bike lane is located.)
But let’s just remember for a moment why it was that those kids we knew, way back when, changed all the rules during the game. The reason was to give themselves an advantage. And the reason that someone would want to give themselves an advantage was because they were afraid of losing.
What usually happens with children who continuously change the rules to allow themselves to win in a game is that, eventually, no one wants to play with them anymore. Or, in more political terms, they’re voted out of office.