There’s a new city council embarking on how to shape Toronto for the next four years.
Rather than sit on the sidelines and watch the new Mayor Rob Ford and 44 councillors make decisions that shape the city and your neighbourhood, get in the game.
Now’s the perfect time to push for something you are passionate about. We often complain to our loved ones, neighbours, colleagues or strangers about speeding cars on our street or sketchy characters hanging out in a nearby parking lot.
It’s easier than you think to voice your concerns and make a positive difference.
Keep in mind Mayor Ford was elected overwhelmingly in the suburbs, so he may focus more on these voters.
“Rob Ford will cater to his suburban base, so voices from the suburbs will be more powerful,” said Midtown Councillor Joe Mihevc.
That doesn’t mean Ford will ignore Midtown, especially as he campaigned on better customer service.
Midtowner Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler is no stranger to political action. He started as a teenager pushing for better education and community safety.
“It starts by deciding what you want changed and sharing it with friends, neighbours and family and people you have never met,” he said. “Get a critical mass together.”
He suggests calling Mayor Ford even if you don’t think he will support your cause.
“The public citizens don’t need to change with the political climate. The citizens are there to tell government how to change,” Chaleff-Freudenthaler said.
Customer service 311 info line
If you have a basic issue like a pothole, missed garbage pick-up or fallen tree limb, start with the city’s 24/7 customer service line 311.
Call mayor, councillors
If you have no luck with 311, or you want to push for a bigger change, call your councillor or the mayor.
“All different councillors got elected, so different voices count,” Mihevc said. “If you want something more, like crosswalks, a building application, renovating a park, then your best alley is a city councillor.”
If you don’t know who your city councillor is, call 311 and tell the customer service rep your address and they will give you the info. Or check online.
Success for your project
If you want something that costs money, you will have a harder time,” Mihevc said.
You will improve your chances for city approval and money if you bring fundraising dollars to the table, he added.
A great example is Glen Cedar Park, where community members sold engraved park benches, tree plaques and walkway bricks to raise $100,000 for a new playground. The city chipped in another $100,000.
The community volunteers developed a website, contacted their councillor and the Town Crier, which wrote several articles about their progress and success.
Civic Engagement 101
To be successful, you need others to join your cause.
“Working alone is almost a one-person dream,” Mihevc said. “Working with people with the same dream creates a vision. So get organized.”
Coach House Books just released Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto, with advice by more than a dozen activists, journalists and writers.
Included in the book is an essay called Civic Engagement 101, written by Dave Meslin, one of the book’s editors.
He advises you to know your councillor plus city staff who write policy reports. This way you can have some input before staff makes recommendations to politicians.
If you know the city staffer or department you need to contact check the city’s site for a list of names and phone numbers.
Meslin also suggests you make a five-minute deputation to a committee of councillors deciding on the issue you care about. Don’t forget to bring a crowd of supporters.
Next month: How social media can help your cause, keeping up the momentum and getting radical.
If you have an issue you are pushing for, I’d love to know [email@example.com]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email].
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