Friday, December 17, 2010

Council Meeting Dec 16 Happenings

Council Seen  From Two Viewpoints

(I will do a more detailed analysis, with emphasis on my local Councillor Ana Bailao's performance, at a later date)

1. The morning portion until the lunch break I watched Rogers televised video, while simultaneously looking at meeting agendas, documents and twitter and tweeting much too much in retrospect. From this at home, media-censored view, I could only focus on the recognized speakers and saw little disruption or 'other activities'. I found it focussed me on listening closely even to speakers whose viewpoints I personally disagreed with. This was the spectator sport debate, with no distractions. The TV screen seemed to make everyone bigger than life and demanding of my attention. The essence of pure debate. Rivetting attention.

2. Post lunch and up to a gruelling long 9:05PM when I left I was there in person. I saw many, many things that are never caught by the televising cameras. Examples:

 1) Councillors reading newspapers, engaging in small 2-3 person conversations, sometimes too loudly for me to hear the recognized speakers (who were using mikes in the room), the Speaker herself distracted, not listening as well and having her own 2-3 ways, Councillors popping in and out of the room frequently.... in summary, a TON of distraction and clear disinterest in hearing other speakers. (I did note that Ana Bailao was present and attentive 90% of the time, credit to her willingness to learn. Kudos! ) In summary: a troubling lack of respect for others, primarily committed by the so-called veterans.

2) At times, rookie councillors being coached and frankly - taken advantage of - by the veteran councillors. Case in point: I saw a bewildered Ana Bailao tring to figure out how to vote on a relatively minor issue, then her next seatmate to her right (Michael Thompson) simply lean over and push her vote button! I really hope that Ana is not going to be over-coached by her two Fordite bookends: Denzil Minnan-Wong to her left and Michael Thompson to her right. Calling this a first-timer's blooper is about as kind as I can get. ANA: Please demand to make your own votes yourself!  If that were me, I'd never let another Councillor "push my buttons". There was also a lot of commenting by people like Giorgio Mammoliti to various rookies to just 'trust us on this, just vote this way' coaxing, heckling etc.

3) Anyone wanting to know the clear divisions of who is pro-Ford and anti-Ford, left or right or whatever division you want to call it just has to be there. You see the 'right' pointedly ignore or vociferously heckle the 'left' when they speak, and vice-versa. It couldn't be clearer unless they mooned each other. Those in the 'mushy middle', supposedly independent or non-aligned councillors generally listen equally to both extremes. The body language and gestures are so telling of who really hates/disrespects who. (Adam Vaughan and Denzil Minnan-Wong should have just had an old-fashioned duel and settled things by now)

4) Playing to the media, choosing your time to speak: the veterans know any neat sound bytes they can deliver must be in the media reporting windows, but they also know how to stage a powerful guaranteed to be noticed speech by choosing WHEN to speak. Example: Michael Thompson on the PVT was the last to speak and put the nail in the proverbial coffin by summarizing Fordite-neato slogans and elciting much applause from the audience. In this regard, Team Ford looked much more organized and savvy than their flailing left wing detractors. I'd compare this to a hockey game where in desperation players make hail mary type moves to score by themselves and fail miserably - that's council's "left wing kooks" right now. Gord Perks making intelligent speeches full of real ponder-worthy information is that single player trying a desperation move.

5) Stunts: Watching the video feed you might not see pointed demonstrations like Pam McConnell offering her takeout lunch to Mayor Ford or Shelley Carroll handing out cookies (I snarfed one by being bold and begging it from her), which I take was probably a protest about last meetings' cancellation of catered food for council. You would not have caught Mayor Ford handing a few bucks to an aide to go get him food either. You would likely not have seen the 3-4 councillors in front of usually long-winded Anthony Perruzza giving him a choreographed "wrap it up" hand signal. You also would not catch the individual seemingly secret hand signals across the floor from one councillor to another, some of which seemed to be like secret baseball coaching signalling.

6) Missing context: Prime example was Michael Layton's silly (in my view) motiuon to have the city protest MacLean's Magazine "Too Asian" comment in an investigative piece on Canadian Universities. The official documents and the televised view would tell you it was a slam dunk agreement by most of council. In reality it was 9:03pm and many councillors were just shouting out they wanted to go home, just say yes. A very visibly surprised Mike Layton was still in shock that it passed when a few lefties came over to shake his hand on his first successful motion - without any debate. It was a vote to leave not to agree to the substance of the motion.

7) Class and Kindness: TV cameras would not catch the many councillors who left their seats to go up into the audience and chat with their constituents. I myself was extremely pleasantly surprised that Ana Bailao spent a few minutes welcoming me and not only heard my wish to see the TTC an essential service but also why. She even mentioned it in her speaking time. Even though she voted NO (her first vote not to be on the "winning side" of votes?), I do honour and believe that she struggled to come to her own decision on this, in what she believed to be in the majority interest of her ward. Kudos to Ana, even though I disagree on this I respect your process. When Adam Giambrone was in that chair, I never felt welcomed or respected, even when I initially campaigned for him. Ward 18 has definitely gotten a step better than Adam's time.

8) The Physical Toll: To be there, in the chambers, watching the debates is physically exhausting, and not just because of the rambling on-and-on speeches by some, or even the length of time to be seated and paying attention - but primarily because of the CONSTANT bombardment of activity around you for attention! Mini-conversations everywhere, movement everywhere, even the audience distractions of applause (not supposed to be allowed but it was today). Add to this the massive amount of documents, binders and papers some had on their desks and the rush of last minute amendments, some of whichwere overly complicated. In the private business world, and afternoon meeting if it happens (mornings are known to be better) it lasts for no more than 3 hours at a stretch. Simple organic sensible reality of the creatures we are. Yet council chooses to compress wayyy too much into one day of deliberating rather than return refreshed and at peak efficiency? Not wise.

***Update: On the topic of whether any Councillors would mention the increasing POVERTY problem in Toronto, I was surprised that 3 of them actually did so, if only in a very tangential way: Ana Bailao, Pam McConnell and Paula Fletcher. Actually, they talked about compassion for those on LOW INCOME, but close enough. At least that can compete with "hard-working taxpayers" as a token slogan...