Fresh from winning my first election to city council last year, I was approached by the Toronto Star to write a weekly column about city hall from a newly elected councillor’s perspective and to offer readers a unique and candid look into local politics.
In this column, I’ve tried to open City Hall’s doors to the public; sharing my initial learning curve, the immediate challenge of grappling with the city’s budget, the experience of serving one’s own community and what it’s like to work with 44 other councillors and a controversial mayor.
I’ve also had the opportunity to discuss many issues including garbage privatization, public housing, the budget and the future of Toronto’s rapid transit system.
However, as I’m no longer really a “newbie,” and over eight months have passed, the time is now right to conclude this series.
I’m grateful to the Star, and I’m appreciative of every Torontonian who’s allowed me, and my diary, to be part of their Monday mornings.
And while this column’s come to an end, I’ll be hosting a new radio show on Newstalk 1010. Every Sunday between 1-3 p.m., you’re invited to join me in a conversation about our city with each of Toronto’s city councillors.
In the eight months I’ve been at City Hall, perhaps what’s surprised me most is how much influence the mayor has over council’s agenda. This isn’t simply a reflection on Mr. Ford but on the City of Toronto’s governance model itself. The mayor’s office is truly like a power vacuum that I believe stifles the contributions of councillors from all sides.
What I’ve enjoyed most about my new role is the relationship I’ve built with residents in my ward. We’ve worked together to complete new parks, develop a strategy to support seniors and gave it our best to save a popular bus route. I cannot express well enough how much I care about the community and the sense of responsibility I feel every day to advocate for their best interests.
I’ve also enjoyed getting to know my colleagues on council. Behind the polarizing debates and sensational headlines, I’ve met councillors from every ward who are clearly dedicated to public service. However, council sadly remains mired in partisan bickering. I continue to believe that if each of us rely less on combative rhetoric and focus more on finding solutions, the better all of our residents will be served.
The next several months will challenge council to be its most thoughtful, creative and responsible to solve the serious structural deficit Toronto’s been saddled with since amalgamation.
We should discuss finding budget efficiencies and, yes, new sources of revenue, too. We could keep the city’s fair wage policy but also request more flexibility from our union partners to accept reasonable concessions that reflect our financial reality. Ultimately, we must create sustainable funding agreements with other levels of government. We can do this if we work to unify our city rather than divide it.
After all, every taxpayer, citizen and resident in this city is a Torontonian.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.
To read this column at thestar.ca, please click here.