Stand On-guard for Thee, Toronto

Toronto was caught off-guard by the Premier’s attack on democracy three weeks ago. While that fight will play itself out in court in the coming weeks, we need to begin to prepare for future battlegrounds — and find a different set of tactics to resist.

When news broke three weeks ago that the Premier was unilaterally cutting City Council in half in the midst of an election, many of us were outraged. As I made clear in my comments at the time, it was an ill-conceived and power-grabbing move that does nothing to improve the functioning of City Hall.

Since then, there have been a variety of forms of resistance to Doug Ford’s move. There have been procedural delays. There have been rallies. There have been petitions — lots of petitions. And there have been legal challenges, to which the City added its voice yesterday afternoon.

Yet regardless of the outcome of those challenges, one thing is clear: Torontonians— and in particular its more progressive constituents like yours truly — were caught off-guard and is suffering as a result.

Despite the commendable efforts of groups like Progress Toronto — who led much of the organizing of resistance efforts— and the delay tactics in the legislature of the official opposition — which were as hilarious as they were necessary — Bill 5’s passage was never truly in doubt. Likewise, the town halls that I attended struggled to provide a satisfying answer for what the citizen-led resistance movement could realistically do (see below).

The August 16th Toronto Centre town hall was well organized and informative, but ultimately unable to provide attendees with meaningful ways of influencing the outcome of Bill 5.

Ultimately, the challenge for Toronto given the current direction of the provincial government is two-fold.

First, despite his (ludicrous) claims to the contrary, Toronto does not support Doug Ford, and so he does not feel compelled to support them. Few members of his government represent the City — particularly its downtown — and so there is little incentive to act in their best interests. Petitions and rallies are important, but if they do not extend beyond the constituents of the city who would never vote for Doug Ford in the first place, they will fall on deaf ears.

Second, any resistance to Doug Ford faces a public engagement gap. By contrast to the relative apathy towards the current cuts, during the Amalgamation Debate — which was the last time a provincial government tried to ram through changes to the democratic landscape of Toronto— there was a very vocal and widespread campaign against the plan. The speed at which Bill 5 moved was clearly a factor, but voter disinterest in local politics has also had a significant role — and will continue to going forward.

Given these factors, we need a new playbook for resistance against a government hell-bent on wreaking havoc on the City and many of the things we love most about this province. Majority governments are powerful in our system, but they are not invincible. Some examples of how to take the fight to them include:

  • Vulnerable spots — flooding the inboxes and phone lines of constituent offices of sitting MPPs is effective, but only at-scale. To date, the efforts have been more scattered — spreading efforts thinly across the entirety of the government. In a capacity constrained environment, these efforts need to be more targeted in order to be effective. As a starting point, there are eight ridings the Conservatives won in June by less than 1,000 votes. Unlike other members of the government sitting comfortably in reliable, conservative ridings, a surge of pressure from constituents in these areas almost certainly will give them reason for pause.*
  • Proactive campaigns — as mentioned before, the speed of the debate is one of the reasons the Premier’s move was successful. In order to ensure time is no longer his government’s ally, the resistance movements need to get out ahead of the areas he is likely to target next. Many of these are known, such as the “evidence review” of safe injection sites, to the likely battles around privatization and uploading of services to the province. If, by the time bills are introduced on some of these key issues, the public has already been engaged and whipped into a frenzy, there is better chance that our values and approach can be defended.

And that is just a start.

Toronto Centre MPP Suze Morrison said it best during one of the town halls last week I attended when she remarked that “it is going to get worse before it gets better.” While that outlook may be gloomy, I tend to think it is right: we are just seeing the beginning of what this government intends to do. And if Doug Ford is the game changer we keep being told he is, then it’s time to find ourselves a new set of rules.

All comments, questions, or additions are welcome. For more information on Will Meneray’s campaign for City Councillor in Ward 21, please contact us or visit us at our website.

Note that the cuts to council were just one of several regressive policies pushed through over in the past weeks during the usually quiet summer sitting— including an end to cap-and-trade, a freeze on approvals for new safe-injection sites, and the abrupt cancelling of the basic income pilot .

*The ridings mentioned with a narrow victory margin for the Conservatives were Brampton West (490 votes), Brantford-Brant (621), Eglinton-Lawrence (752), Kitchener South-Hespeler (769), Kitchener Conestoga (686), Ottawa West-Nepean (176), Sault St. Marie (414), and Scarborough-Rouge Park (963). (Source: CTV News)