“Municipal politics has never been my thing”

By: Emily Harris

Municipal politics has never been “my thing”.

I’ve always been more interested in the causes and consequences of national and global political and socio-economic trends, especially as they affect women. I really didn’t think that I could be bothered to consider upcoming municipal budget approvals, or any such minor developments in how my city is managed. They didn’t seem important or relevant to my experience [insert condescending joke about Millennials and global citizenship here]. The good news is that I’ve begun to see the light, and WiTOpoli is guiding my way.

Over a few months, I learned more about the group and saw the opportunity to join them at an event co-hosted by Be the Vote. I told a few friends at work about it, one of whom hadn’t voted in a Canadian election in a number of years, and we all attended together. It was a great introduction to what WiTOpoli is all about, and included a challenge to get someone new to vote (which I promptly decided should be that same friend – and it worked!).

My biggest inspirational WiTOpoli moment, however, happened just a few weeks ago. I noticed that they were hosting a Municipal Budget night at the Centre for Social Innovation.  I took a look at the information that was going to be presented, and realized that I had zero clue about how these budgetary processes work. I had to go!

Claire McWatt was the host of the event which also featured Executive Director of Sistering Pat O’Connell. The entire evening was such a great example of how the folks at WiTOpoli really get it – from including childcare options at the venue of their events to using inclusive and respectful language throughout their communications. It was also a very informative evening for me, as I can know understand and explain the differences between capital and operating budgets, how to reconcile municipal politicians’ statements with the action they are able to take, and how seemingly small, bureaucratic decisions can have a huge impact on women in vulnerable circumstances in our city. It was also interesting to hear the questions from the other women and men who attended (albeit sometimes I was frustrated to hear how many women began their comments by apologizing or saying “This might be a stupid question, but…” – but group power structures and the socialization of women is the topic for another post!).

In short, the evening was inspiring and a little humbling, too. I realized that I needed to learn more about municipal systems, power balances between and amongst citizens, and the influence of local people on the building of their own community.

Soon after the event, I saw a tweet that encouraged attendees to send an email to their city councillor. WiTOPoli provided a template to send which stressed the importance of providing adequate budget for the development of low-barrier shelters for women. Gotta love the ease of this tool! I saw it as an opportunity to go from education to action, and used the template (along with the website provided to identify who my councillor actually was!) to send the email.

I really didn’t think much would come of it after that. In the past, I had fired off many different form emails to federal politicians and signed tons of petitions without getting anything in return. So wasn’t I surprised when I saw a reply a few hours later from my councillor’s office! Not only had my councillor read the email, he wanted to have a phone call with me to discuss the issues I referenced.  I soon sent an email back to confirm that I would have a chat with him, but I had no idea what to expect! Luckily, Steph was kind enough to send me some pointers about how to go forward (thanks again, Steph!).

At this point, it’s really important for me to also reflect on the fact that I’ve been privileged enough to partake in these experiences. Important factors like having the money to travel by TTC to events, speaking the same language as my councillor, and having the luxury of time in the middle of the day to take a phone call all contributed to this experience for me. I am very aware that is not a feasible way for everyone to engage in our political system, and there are strong, structural barriers that exclude many voices and opinions from participating full in the civic process. This is not acceptable and must be changed.

All in all, the call with my councillor went very well.  I referenced some of striking facts and figures that I had highlighted from various websites, and periodically noted many of the most important statistics. It felt like an honest conversation, as opposed to a staged or scripted affair, where I was able to openly talk about my neighbourhood and the issues I see in my city (I think the operative word here is ownership). My councillor acknowledged the fact that we have problems, and put forward a few budget-related suggestions about how to improve. There was also space to continue the conversation, and my councillor urged me to get in touch with him again to share my thoughts in the future.

Thank you to WiTOpoli for helping me to expand my horizons. You are truly an inspirational group that is doing such good work for the women in our city. I’ll see you again soon.

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WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, February 19

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

WiTOpoli Weekly: Friday, February 5

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, January 8

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

WiTOpoli Weekly: Friday, October 30

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

  • Ontario drafts new rules for carding and sets the parameters for certain forms of street checks to continue. Here is how the provincial regulations differ from the Toronto Police Services Board’s carding policy.
  • Stephen LeClair, Ontario’s new Financial Accountability Officer, calls into question to partial sale of Hydro One in his report.  The Report claims that Ontario’s debt would initially decrease, but will increase to amounts higher than it would have been without the sale.
  • Ontario aims to end chronic homelessness in 10 years. The province has a $50 million poverty reduction fund, $10 million of which will be spent over the next two years on initiatives to eradicate poverty. The Ontario government is set to hold hearings to get feedback to address the persistent wage gap.
  • On October 27, Tracey MacCharles, Ontario Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues, introduced a new legislation that targets sexual violence, workplace harassment and will increase support for survivors. This legislation proceeds the Ontario government’s anti-sexual violence campaign.
  • A Toronto resident recorded a video of TAVIS officers trying to block his camera as she tried to film an arrest happening at Jane and Lawrence.

WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, June 26

 A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

  • Happy Pride everyone! Lots of events will be happening around the city to celebrate the diversity along the gender and sexuality spectrums!
  • Toronto has released its new poverty strategy indicating that 30% of people living with disabilities, 33% of visible minorities, 46% of newcomers and 37% of female single parent families live in poverty. Questions remain as to whether the political will exists at City Hall to implement the recommendations.
  • In a similar vein a new report exploring Toronto’s transit deserts explores how inadequate transit reinforces existing inequalities and acts as a driver of the cycle of poverty.
  • Eric Andrew-Gee explores a “sliding scale” of minimum wage for cities with a high-cost of living as an attempt to mitigate the impacts of low-wages and high costs of housing. The CCPA argues that a living wage for Toronto rests around $16.60/hr in a two-income household.
  • The Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators will be meeting to discuss how to implement recommendations from their report to address systemic racism in Ontario Schools.
  • The Canadian Network for Women’s Shelters and Transition Homes released their report “Shelter Voices” in 2014. This report explores the successes and the challenges for organizations providing shelter and support to women escaping violence.
  • Indiegogo is hosting a fundraising campaign to complete post-production of Free Cece, A film exploring the epidemic of violence against Transgender women of colour.
  • There was lots of activity in the sub-committees around the city this week:

 

WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, January 23

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.