2011 Hero: Kristyn Wong-Tam
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2011 Hero: Kristyn Wong-Tam

Nominated for: speaking her mind as part of the unofficial opposition at city council.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past twelve months. From December 12–23, the candidates for Mightiest and Meanest—and new this year, a reader’s write-in option! From December 26–29 you’ll be able to vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year, and we’ll reveal the results December 30.

If Rob Ford’s declining popularity as mayor has made him the Goliath of the year, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) is 2011’s plucky David. Armed with little more than her courage and conviction, the rookie councillor—who won Kyle Rae’s former seat by fewer than 500 votes—has spent her first year slinging shots at the mayor while many others on council stayed silent.

In June, she criticized the decision to remove the Jarvis bike lanes—which run directly through her ward—that was made without consulting or notifying her. In August, she posted an open letter to Rob Ford after he shot down Toronto’s bid for the 2020 Olympic Games without consulting council. The games, however, were just the tip of the iceberg: Wong-Tam’s letter questioned the unilateral decision-making process at City Hall, as well as the “special privileges” Councillor Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) enjoys.

The mayor didn’t respond, but Wong-Tam had found a way of making her point heard amidst a council that had been tiptoeing around him for months. A little over a month later she was at it again, penning another open letter after the mayor kicked her and Councillor Janet Davis out of a Childcare Taskforce Meeting, despite the fact that both women are members of the Community Development Recreation Committee. While Ford didn’t technically break any rules, it’s a rather rich move from a mayor who campaigned on increasing government transparency. On Twitter, Wong-Tam called the decision what it was: “Unusual and rude.”

Some of Wong-Tam’s projects, including a proposal for a Bank of Toronto and a plan for the redevelopment of Yonge Street, haven’t received much support. But even Ford can’t stop her momentum on certain issues. In October, a bill Wong-Tam and fellow councillors John Parker and Glenn De Baeremaeker proposed to ban the sale of shark fins in Toronto passed with an overwhelming majority (Ford was one of the four who voted against it). She was also able to slip an amendment into Ford’s Graffiti Management Strategy that demanded strict retroactive billing for corporations that use graffiti in public spaces to market products.

While Wong-Tam works hard—and sleeps little—to represent her constituents, it’s her resolve to say what’s on her mind that sets her apart as a hero for Toronto. Since we’re stuck with a mayor who doesn’t like to listen, it’s now more important than ever to have someone speaking up often and loud enough that he has no other choice.