On International Women’s Day, here are 6 Signal stories about politics and female power at Toronto City Hall

1. Weekend brunch and dinner party talking points about the longest-serving female city councillors

Nov. 9, 2016

In honour of the U.S. election this week and the first female presidential candidate – a politician who has spent much of her life in politics – Signal Toronto caught up with two of the longest-serving female city councillors on the Toronto political scene: Councillors Maria Augimeri and Frances Nunziata. We wanted to know what it takes to serve as a city councillor for as long as each of them has, whether either has ever been told they are an inspiration for younger women, and whether city hall ever feel like a boys club.

[Excerpts from the article:]

Maria Augimeri

Has Toronto City Hall or North York ever felt like a boys club or does it feel that way now?

It did. North York Council most certainly was. … I was pregnant in the campaign to run for councillor. I had child-care issues but they were manageable because I was able to bring the children [to work]. There was no problem except that some councillors at the time resented it and did not feel it was appropriate. That would not be the case today.

Anything else besides being a mother of a small child where boys club fits in?

It doesn’t have to do with being a mom, it has to do with being a woman. … Those were the days where you had quite a bit of corruption… I don’t think women generally play a part in those kinds of things.

Frances Nunziata:

Has Toronto City Hall or York ever felt like a boys club?

York was, yes. There were eight of us and the mayor. I was the only female. It was awful. There was a lot of verbal and sexual harassment. I went through a real difficult time with York council. … Some councillors were there longer than I, so I was kind of the young female coming on board. It was a boys club. There was a lot of that. I got stronger through that, because you’re able to tolerate the abuse, and then you become a different person. Now I would never tolerate that. … There was one [instance of] sexual harassment, by one councillor, he was an older gentleman. We were in a boardroom, we were having a meeting. All the councillors were there, sitting down. I had a skirt on. He actually put his hand up my crotch. When I yelled at him, the other councillors all just started laughing, they thought it was a joke. His comment to me, ‘Leave me alone, I’m an old man, I’m sick.’ So, I sued him. The other harassment was verbal harassment, threats from other councillors.

Is there still a boys club, or a culture of sexism at Toronto City Hall?

No … I don’t see that now. … Sometimes in council you’ll get one of the members of council start yelling they’re not happy – but compared to what it was – no. It’s changed a lot over the years. … I think men have accepted women as being equal now, much more than they did 20 years ago. … Politically, I think that it’s changed for women in politics [compared with] 20, 25 years ago. (Read the story)

2. Councillors debate Pam McConnell’s legacy in appointment of Troisi

Nov. 2, 2017

Toronto city council appointed former City of Toronto parks manager Lucy Troisi as Ward 28 city councillor Thursday afternoon. Council needed two rounds of ballots to get a majority for one of the 27 candidates.

Troisi won with 24 out of 44 votes (one councillor was absent). Michael Creek, the candidate supported by the family of late councillor Pam McConnell, the councillor Troisi will be replacing, had 19 votes in the first and second round.

Troisi spoke with reporters after meeting Creek and the McConnell family. She said she respected their support for Creek but she also had a lovely relationship with McConnell. “Pam was a real role model for me. I worked a long time with Pam, and both of us had similar agendas so I’m looking forward to going back and representing the ward in a different capacity,” Troisi said.

However, the extent of similarities between their agendas is questionable based on the magnitude of support for Creek from most of the left-leaning councillors (of which McConnell was among them), plus a handful of centrist councillors and Mayor John Tory.

As councillors made their speeches for who should be chosen for the Ward 28 seat, emotions ran high as a handful made arguments that Troisi should be chosen because she is a woman in politics and that was a key issue for McConnell, while others made arguments that Creek, an openly gay man who has experience with poverty, represented another kind of marginalized identity (there are no openly gay men on council).

(Read the story)

3. A deep dive into Toronto’s newly named streets reveals the city’s laneways are a boys club

Jan. 23, 2018

As women around the world took to the streets this past weekend for the global women’s march, Signal Toronto looked at the spaces that connect the streets – the city’s laneways – and specifically the names of those streets.

We looked at 89 laneways named since 2014 (since the beginning of this electoral term) in Toronto, Scarborough, Etobicoke, and North York, including the backstory for why they were named what they were. The main things we looked for were whether the name of the laneway refers to a man, woman, family, business, or other. The analysis found that almost half of the laneways named since 2014 are named after men; more than a third are named in relation to nature, history, or a business or group; and 15 per cent are named after women.

Laneway names are decided at monthly community council meetings where fewer than a dozen city councillors authorize the name of a lane. Councillors introduce the new names at committee (applications can come from anyone, including the councillor, and are coordinated through the councillor’s office in advance of the community council meeting) and explain the backstory and significance of the name.

As of 2016, the city had 2,400 laneways, approximately 450 of which had names. Basically anyone, dead or live, can have a laneway named after them – as long as the person or a family member gives their consent.

(Read the story)

4. The first female mayor of pre-amalgamated Toronto remembered at city hall

Dec. 23, 2017

Former mayor June Rowlands died this week at 93.  “She helped build this city and blazed a trail,” read a statement from Mayor John Tory’s office. Councillor Paula Fletcher said Rowlands paved the way for women in leadership positions at city hall. “She was a tough cookie. For her to run the Toronto Transit Commission – that was considered a man’s job only, even though she was an elected official.” Fletcher hopes the amalgamated City of Toronto will soon see its first female mayor. “This was the old City of Toronto that had June Rowlands as a woman mayor [elected in 1991] and then Barbara Hall as a woman mayor [elected mayor in 1994] and then we have the mega-city. So what I’m really waiting for now is for when the large mega-city, the amalgamated city, will elect its first woman mayor, and I hope it’s not too far away, but there’s not a lot of women elected in some of the other areas [of the city] so we have to do more work to make that happen.” According to the geographic divisions of the city’s community councils, the concentration of female councillors is in the city’s centre.

  • Toronto and East York Council – 7 women and 4 men
  • North York Council – 4 women and 7 men
  • Etobicoke York Council – 2 women and 9 men
  • Scarborough Community Council – 1 woman and 9 men

(From the Newsbrief)

5. Q & A with chief transformation officer’s council advocate, Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb

Nov. 17, 2017

City Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb has always been behind the scenes in politics, until this term. The 40-year-old former project manager is the council advocate for the new chief transformation officer, Michael Kolm, who was appointed to the role in the spring.

In this week’s Q & A we talk with Carmichael Greb about what transformation means in the large bureaucracy of the City of Toronto, if being a woman in politics matters, why she doesn’t speak a lot at committees, and why her mission as a new city councillor means challenging the system.

[Here is an excerpt from the interview:]

There are fewer female politicians, so by default, you might become a role model. Are you aware of that in your day to day, or how you think about the work?

It has to, I’ve got three kids. For me, I plan my days so that I can make sure I can drop them off at the bus in the morning. If I have a meeting, I’m able to get home usually before – council’s separate because that goes all day – that I’m able to get home and see them before I have to go out again. I always believe that if you’re a woman in politics, yes it will be different, because – well, I had a baby when I was here. I didn’t get a maternity leave. She was born on a Saturday morning and I was on a phone call on Tuesday, and was at a meeting the following week. So as a woman – and this is my view – if you want to get involved in politics as a woman, yes you will have to make sacrifices. You also have to have a good support system. My husband and I work really hard to make sure that if I’m out at night that he’s home, or we have someone to watch our kids. It is different if you’re going to be a woman in politics and have children and have a family and for me, that’s the way I roll. You make it work. You do what you have to do to make it work.

You have two little boys, you just had a little girl. In terms of being a role model – is that something you’re aware of? Traditionally, mothers–

I probably should think about it, but I don’t. It’s my life, so I do what I have to do. If I’m going to pursue something, my husband and I need to have that conversation. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a car industry, which typically isn’t a female industry. Growing up, my mom was involved in the business and she’d put on seminars for women about how you take care of your car and what are the basic things to know. It was always: you can do everything. It may work a bit differently than a man has to do it, but you do what you want and you get to where you want just be persevering and nothing’s going to hold you back. That’s how I grew up. To me, that’s just normal. I’ve never felt or had the thought, “I can’t do that because I’m female.” It’s just how it’s always been.

Is there a boys club element of politics still?

I’m sure there is, only because there are more men that are in politics. Until you have more women involved, there probably always will be a bit of that, because there’s more men here. That’s just how it is. I don’t make a big deal about it and say I’m a woman, I need to do this. I’ll just do what I have to do to get my job done, and make sure that my residents are looked after and their voices are being heard.

Is it important to shift council culture away from it being a place that’s been traditionally dominated by men, to be proactive and really shake that up?

I think so, absolutely. Because the city is changing so quickly and even Canada is changing so quickly, we need to be at the forefront of what’s going on. There’s new ways of doing things. How do we stay up with the times and still make sure that democracy is being upheld? So, yes, I think council always needs a shake-up to make sure of that. There’s always traditions we need to hold on to, but if there’s a new way to do something that might be more effective, let’s look at it. Now we have a more wide range of ages on council. I don’t know where I stand. I’m not one of the younger ones, like Joe Cressy and Mike Ford, who grew up later than I did and do things differently and are making sure that we can accommodate everybody based on new ways of doing things, yet at the same time, there are traditional things that need to be upheld and laws that need to be upheld from a process standpoint.

(Read the interview)

6. Girl power is political

Jan. 21, 2017

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam spoke at a rally at Nathan Phillips Square Saturday after a march from Queen’s Park for the Women’s March in Toronto. “Our prime minister calls himself a feminist. Our premier is a feminist, and to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never heard John Tory call himself a feminist,” Wong-Tam said to the massive crowd. “But my friends, that’s probably best because we may not believe him anyways.” Wong-Tam held a public forum on Thursday evening called “Gender Equity in the City Budget,” where participants wrote signs describing their ideal city. Wong-Tam tweeted photos including one that says, “My ideal city has a woman of colour as mayor.”

(From the Newsbrief)