Josh Matlow City Hall Diary
What you’re about to read might surprise you — Toronto’s city councillors are much less divided than you might think.
Council meeting agendas typically contain hundreds of items each month; yet only a small number of them are covered by the media for the public’s consumption. And while most reporters usually focus on the few contentious issues that divide council along political and ideological lines, the vast majority of items are passed with little or no debate.
Recent headlines coming out of city hall have been about everything from affordable housing and bikes lanes, to the conflict in the Middle East. But perhaps the thorniest issues individual councillors must contend with are the local, and seemingly less sensational topics like parking and traffic.
These local issues can easily turn into difficult street fights between neighbours and there’s an unwritten code among councillors when it comes to matters like these — if you respect my ward, I’ll respect yours. While there are some exceptions to the rule, this courtesy is honoured by most members of council.
This cooperation at council is in stark contrast to how combative parking and traffic concerns often become between neighbours. They affect our everyday lives. And what works for one street can send residents on an adjacent street into rebellion. For a local councillor, navigating through these issues can feel like walking through a minefield.
Like many areas of Toronto, my midtown ward has frustrating traffic congestion that is exacerbated by ongoing construction. Following the path of least resistance, many drivers avoid clogged arteries such as Yonge St. and find shortcuts through (what once were) quiet, residential streets. Recently, a resident in my ward asked me to support restricting cars from turning onto his street during rush hour as he was worried about the number of cars going by as he walks his kids to school.
In isolation, this request would have made a lot of sense. But when traffic is obstructed in one location, it simply moves to another. I polled each of the neighbourhood’s residents and the vast majority of their feedback reflected that concern. And even though I wanted to support this resident, I knew I couldn’t.
Every councillor, whether they represent a suburban or downtown ward, serves residents who are understandably upset about not being able to find a parking spot on their street or are unable to enjoy their front porch without a steady stream of cars going by. We all hear from passionate parents who are deeply concerned about their child’s safety.
And when we’re not in council meetings, my colleagues and I often compare notes, swap stories and ask each other for advice.
I know councillors will continue to have disagreements but by sharing lessons about how to resolve problems that regularly pull our communities apart, even the most partisan councillors can be brought together.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.
To read this column on thestar.ca, please click here.