At our new city council’s inaugural meeting, my colleagues and I excitedly assembled with family and friends to celebrate our achievements, look forward to the new term and to honour a day full of tradition and dignity. Then Don Cherry, dressed in a theatrical, bright pink jacket, opened his mouth.
Canada’s celebrity coach was invited to present Mayor Ford with the chain of office and to say a few words to council. He did so by strongly describing those who don’t share his political persuasions as “pinkos” and “left-wing kooks”.
Most of my fellow newbie councillors and I were stunned by what we had witnessed. For those of us who came to City Hall with a true spirit of non-partisanship and optimism, we were saddened by the divisive tone of his speech.
I had really hoped for a more coach-like pep talk. Mr. Cherry could have rallied us together with wise words about working as a team; how hockey values both left- and right-wing positions and that it takes an assist, to get a goal. Instead, he gave an angry sermon that further perpetuated the very culture of division that has hurt public confidence in our municipal government for far too long.
The mayor then gave his inaugural address. Mr. Ford delivered a fine, but unremarkable, speech that touched on many of the popular aspects of his election campaign platform. However, it was hardly unifying.
When council resumed the next day, the tone had already been set and the gloves were clearly off.
While some thoughtful debate occurred and legitimate questions raised, a few on the “Left”, wearing articles of pink clothing, protested what they perceived as the “Right’s” declaration of war. In reaction, they found every occasion to ridicule the mayor and his team. Some right-leaning members told them not to complain and recalled stories of the David Miller era and of how poorly the once outcast “Right” had been treated. This reminded of how the older generation of my family still brings up decades old debts and vendettas.
At my seat in the council chamber, watching the political stick handling and shots fired before me, I glanced over to my fellow newbie colleagues.
They seemed to be realizing the very same thing as I was; that politics at City Hall might actually be like a hockey game. There are two distinctive teams and the rules state that only one can win.
However, I’m still optimistic we can change these rules if we choose to.
There are many thoughtful and dedicated councillors, and a growing number of Torontonians —both left and right wing and from downtown and former suburbs — who believe differences of opinion are vital, not an impediment, to a healthy democracy.
We now have an opportunity to focus on what we can work on together to benefit our city as a whole.
After all, the first period of council has just begun.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.