More local constituency offices could be coming to a neighbourhood near you

Dec. 2, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

A new City of Toronto staff report is recommending that councillors consider spending more on constituency offices.

“One of the most important things a city councillor does is largely invisible to the public,” Councillor Gord Perks told Signal Toronto this week. “Many Torontonians will run into some kind of problem with a public service or with their housing, or they’ll have a problem with how a building inspector treated them – stuff that’s highly confidential and they need to speak to me in private about – I need somewhere where they can reliably go and talk to me about that.”

Perks doesn’t have a full-time constituency office, but uses meeting rooms in the public library to meet his ward’s residents. Councillor expenses documented online show that Perks spent $1,534.73 on “Constituency Services & Office Expenses” in 2018, which went to booking a meeting space at a public library.

“The problem I have now, though, is with this new super-sized ward, there’s no location central that is convenient to everybody in the ward. So I’m probably going to need a series of different spaces and have to rotate through them over the course of a month.”

The report says councillors can use up to almost $20,000 a year from the general budget on rent for either City-owned or privately owned spaces in their ward. Going forward, city staff are suggesting to  increase that allotment. “Council should consider amending the Parameters for Councillor Constituency Offices policy to increase this budget based on market rents. The net budget impact is established at around $50,000 per year,” the staff report says.

This expense is different from what councillors spend on something called “Constituency Services & Office Expenses,” which (for the most part) councillors use to rent extra office space at City Hall.

For example, Councillor Jim Karygiannis spent $3,113.76 on an extra office space at City Hall in 2018, and copier expenses for his constituency office at Kennedy and Finch (the cost of which is covered by the $20,000 allotment from the general budget).

For the Scarborough councillor, the local office is essential. Karygiannis believes if he had an office at the Scarborough Civic Centre, about a 10 minute drive south without traffic, he would be placing a burden on his constituents.

“The constituency office is very important for my constituents because I’m located at the northwest part of Scarborough, and for my constituents if they want to reach me – to come either to Scarborough Civic Centre or downtown, it will be a trek… they will have to pay parking – they will have to get on the highway to come over… I am very happy that I was able to have an office.”

Karygiannis may be mistaken about public transit access (the ward is highly accessible by TTC), but his point about the local connection is one the Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong can agree with.

“People still believe, no matter how big a constituency is at a local level, they should rightly be able to see their local representative when they need to,” Minnan-Wong said who doesn’t currently have a constituency office.

“Coming down to City Hall for a lot of people is very difficult. It takes them a long time. And a lot of people just have never been to City Hall before. I think they appreciate the fact that someone will come to them and someone will come into their community and that matters to them.”