Josh MatlowCity Hall Diary
What I love most about coming into work every day is the very public nature of City Hall.
Every day, there are weddings, arts and cultural events, and its square has played host to New Year’s Eve celebrations, anti-war protests and many newcomers’ first skates. And unlike Queen’s Park or Parliament Hill, the public is free to walk its corridors without confronting imposing security.
Like many Torontonians, I’ve marked several personal milestones at City Hall. I got my marriage licence there. I also registered to run for office at, perhaps fittingly, the same counter one goes to get a lottery licence.
The first person most see when they enter the front doors is Charlotte, who works at the information counter. Her job is to help visitors find everything from the in-house library branch to the many services available throughout the building.
On the first floor, there are service counters for the federal and provincial governments that, ironically, are not available at Parliament Hill or at the Legislature up the street.
At Service Canada I met Terry, who’s been working there for 10 years.
He likens his job to that of a traffic cop, as he points people in the right direction when applying for Employment Insurance benefits, Social Insurance cards and other federal services.
Not to be outdone, Service Ontario has a kiosk that looks more like a bank machine, where you can renew your driver’s licence sticker and update the information on your health card.
At the City of Toronto walk-up counters, one can apply for permits for everything from building a house to filming movies on Toronto’s streets — you can even pay your taxes there. Teresa, who’s been at her counter for over 20 years, told me that she and her colleagues affectionately refer to their work as “hatch, match and dispatch,” since they used to deal with birth certificates and still help people with marriage licences and death certificates.
The council chamber, along with the several committee meeting rooms where councillors make the big decisions, are all open to the public.
It’s only on arriving at the councillors’ offices on the second floor that one first encounters a locked door. Councillors have their offices in a secure area, and the mayor’s office is now locked.
Members of the public can gain access only by booking a meeting and are required to sign in with a city receptionist.
But when the average resident can’t follow what politicians do on a regular basis — who holds them accountable?
City Hall has a press gallery, where reporters from all of Toronto’s major news outlets have offices. Many of them have access cards for the councillors’ secure area — making it harder for us to hide from public scrutiny. Frankly, if politicians are doing something at City Hall they don’t want public to know about, they shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
City Hall is truly the people’s house and its doors should remain open — literally and figuratively.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.
To read this column at thestar.com, please click here