Many folks who care about Toronto envision ways we can improve it. One way to translate those ideas into action is to share them with the politicians who make decisions about how to manage the city. You can do this through written submissions (more info on that here), or by speaking in person (making a deputation) to Toronto City Council committees. Full Council meetings do not accept public presenters, but the committees and subcommittees that report to Council do. Deputing before committee is not a privilege, but your right as a constituent.
STEP 1: Identify the right committee for your deputation. City Council has many committees and subcommittees (here’s a complete list) that might fit with your deputation topic. What do you want to say? What is your idea or concern? The annual budget consultations are kind of a free-for-all, since most ideas and concerns have some impact on city funds. At other times of year you may have an idea, thought or concern to share that lines up with the work of a particular committee.
Here’s a shortlist of committees that report directly to city council:
- Audit Committee
- Board of Health
- Civic Appointments Committee
- Community Development and Recreation Committee
- Economic Development Committee
- Executive Committee
- Government Management Committee
- Licensing and Standards Committee
- Parks and Environment Committee
- Planning and Growth Management Committee
- Public Works and Infrastructure Committee
- Striking Committee
There are also four community councils:
- Etobicoke York Community Council
- North York Community Council
- Scarborough Community Council
- Toronto and East York Community Council
STEP 2: Get on the speaker list. Each committee page lists the agendas of past and upcoming meetings, as well as the name and email address of that committee’s contact clerk. Once a meeting’s agenda is made public (which often happens a week before the meeting or less), you can sign up to make a deputation relating to one of the agenda items. Inform the clerk in advance if you will need a translator for your deputation so they can arrange for one – or you can bring your own translator.
Email is the best way to sign up because there is a written record of your request. Let the clerk know which agenda item you’ll be speaking on, as well as your full name (or organization name, if you’re deputing on behalf of an organization). Ask the clerk to provide your speaker number in their response. Deputation sign-ups work on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s best to sign up before the courtesy deadline of 4:30 p.m. on the day prior to the meeting, but you can also sign up in person the day of. Put your best foot forward by signing up in advance – this will also make sure you’re well-prepared for your deputation.
It is important to keep in mind that deputations and written submissions will be recorded on video, associated with the personal information you used to sign up as a deputant, and retained as a matter of public record. Only make a written submission or sign up to depute if you are comfortable with that.
STEP 3: Research and prepare. Your deputation should express your own unique thoughts and experience with the issue as a constituent, but it helps to support your deputation with broader research about the topic you’ll be speaking on. Examples include evidence from other jurisdictions or already-implemented programs in the city with comparable elements and positive results. Pore over some council reports (available through the city clerk) in the committee’s topic area to get a sense of the jargon (political, business, technical or otherwise) associated. This may help increase your comfort with asserting yourself both in your deputation and in response to committee members’ questions.
You can stay posted on the issue at hand by setting up Google Alerts for key terms and phrases related to your topic. This will let you see how coverage of your issue is changing over time, and may give you a sense of where committee members stand on the issue as well. It’s a good idea to take committee members’ temperature on the issue you’ll be deputing on, because this will help you structure an argument that will be convincing for those you need to convince.
It’s also wise to check and see if your issue has a hashtag, common search terms, or active advocates on Twitter so you can follow along. Use social media and internet research to identify the city’s existing experts on the topic at hand (tag our Twitter account, @WiTOpoli, in your tweet so we can amplify your search!). Read their articles or blog posts. Contact them directly if you feel comfortable doing so. Ask them for clarification. Use (and reference!) their existing work to collect figures, statistics, and recurring themes or issues to help you add meat to your deputation.
Finally, check the Meeting Monitor regularly. Sometimes agenda items get deferred for a week, a month, who knows.
STEP 4: The big day. A few tips to keep you calm and well-prepared:
- Be as early as possible.
- Notify your councillor (find yours here) that you’ll be speaking at committee, and send them a copy of your deputation. Even if they don’t sit on that committee, it helps to keep them apprised of their constituents’ views and priorities, and they may have helpful tips for you.
- Find out when you arrive if your speaking time will be cut. The standard time for a deputation is 5 minutes, but this allotment is sometimes reduced to 2 or 3 minutes.
- Follow the live agenda on Meeting Monitor.
- There are often power dynamics at play between politicians and constituents. Be respectful, but don’t be afraid to challenge the committee if you feel you aren’t being treated with respect or dignity.
- Unless you’re first, go to the bathroom right away – when it’s your turn, they’ll call your name 3 times and if you miss your call, the committee will move on.
- Follow the live feed on Rogers TV if you have a laptop you can bring.
- Bring business cards and your networking game face if you feel comfortable!
To give you a breadth of advice from folks who know, we used social media to crowd-source tips for first-time deputants. Check out this Storify with tips from people including local journalists, city councillors, and engaged citizens.
CITY TWITTER ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW:
- @TorontoCouncil: Agendas and decisions of Toronto Council and its committees.
- @TorontoCivicEng: Information on city public consultations & civic engagement.
- @TorontoComms: Main feed for all City of Toronto news.
- @TorontoConsult: Engages community members about Capital Works projects.
- Toronto Youth Cabinet
- Have your say! Submitting comments to Toronto Council and committees
- Toronto Public Space Initiative – How to Make a Deputation at City Hall
- Toronto Civic Handbook
- Toronto Women’s City Alliance
- Toastmasters – list of Toronto area clubs
- Capturing Torontopia
Need some additional support? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try as best we can to help you ourselves or direct you to other resources.
This guide is a living document. Please leave a reply below or email us if there’s anything you’d like to see added!
Thank you to WiTOpoli steering committee member Claire McWatt, who provided documentation and resources to support development of this guide.