Citizens of the 6ix: want to change your city? Don’t know how? Here’s a guide.
Many issues get passed at council in a two-step process. First, at a committee where the public has an opportunity to speak — and then at council, where the public does not have an opportunity to speak but can watch in the chambers.
1. Get your issue on the agenda and know when your issue will be debated at city hall
First step is contacting your councillor’s office. Find out who they are, and how to reach their office, on the city’s website.
2. Double check when the issue will be at city hall
The schedule is posted online a week before.
3. Request to speak
If you know in advance you are going to speak on a topic, you can write to the committee, but if you’re not sure until you get there, you can let the clerk know when you arrive.
For example, let’s say you’re interested in speaking your thoughts on the Progress Report on the Intimate Partner Violence Public Education Campaign and Action Plan. Find the item on the City of Toronto website’s calendar page that lists all committees and agendas. When you find a committee and an item on the online agenda, there is a button at the top of the page labelled “Request to speak.” An email will pop up addressed to the Board of Health that will ask you for your name, organization (if applicable), mailing address, and telephone number.
You can also just show up the day of the committee to speak. More details on that below. No matter what, the clerk will ask you to sign something after you’ve spoken.
4. Read the report
Many issues that come to committee have a staff report attached to them. This is a good way to understand the City of Toronto’s position on a particular issue. You can find the report, and the background reports, linked online. Here is the link to the Intimate Partner Violence Report.
5. You can tell the members of the committee you are coming
Committees are run by city councillors, and if they want to, they can defer an item indefinitely, or refer it back to staff. They can also adopt recommendations in a report without debating them. One good strategy to make sure you have the chance to speak is send a note to the chair of the committee letting them know you want your voice heard.
6. Prepare your comments, your deputation will be streamed online and the video will live (at least for a little while) on the internet
While not all committee meetings at city hall are recorded on camera, many are. If you choose to speak publicly on the issue, there may be people watching the committee from home, their office, or a newsroom. Also most of these tapes are archived, and kept online for the term.
Speakers usually have five minutes to speak, but on days when there isn’t enough time to get through the agenda before councillors have to leave (and quorum is lost) then the committee can move to reduce the length to a shorter period of time (often three minutes).
And remember, sometimes less is more.
7. Prepare your answers — councillors will ask you questions
After you speak, councillors will have a chance to ask you questions to clarify something you’ve said or give you a chance to speak about an issue for longer.
8. Committee day! Find where you’re going at city hall
Every agenda will say the committee room and location of the meeting. Many are at Toronto’s city hall, which is on the northwest corner of Bay and Queen Sts., in the dome building between the two towers, behind Nathan Phillips Square.
The committee rooms are on the second floor. Committees are open to the public and seating is available at the back of the room. There is free wifi, but it can be tricky to activate depending on your device. Try opening your internet browser (e.g. safari) and waiting a moment to trigger a page for you to accept the conditions.
9. When you arrive, make sure your name is on the speakers list for the right item.
There are a few ways to make sure your name is on the list of speakers, but the best way is to first check the list found on a table at the side of the committee room, or find the clerk and confirm. The list of speakers is also posted online when the committee begins, and that list is available near the item.
The clerk is usually the one near the front of the committee with a computer. The other people around the inner circle are the members of the committee (city councillors and appointed members). Behind them in the other rows are city staff and media.
The clerk will ask you to sign a paper after you have spoken so they make sure they have your information.
10. You can follow the committee with a printed out copy of the report found on the side of the committee room.
On the same table as the list of speakers are paper copies of the reports (found online) in addition to other letters or information that may not have been posted online. If you want to follow the committee and there are enough copies you can follow along with the report for the item found on the table.
11. Pack a lunch
Committee meetings sometimes last a long time. Lunch is usually taken at 12:30 p.m. resuming at 1:30 p.m., but could also extend without a break.
12. Can’t make it? Rather watch from home? Write a letter
Many Torontonians write letters to the committee to explain their support for or against an issue. You can find a link to the email address for the committee on the item’s webpage, or you can send general inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org, and make sure to confirm the committee and item name.
If you do decide to submit your comments in writing, there is a button on the item page on the website labelled “Submit Comments.” This will activate a form email stating that your comments and the personal information you include in this email will become part of the public record, which could live in part on the internet.
13. Make some noise
If the issue is very important, you may want to contact media outlets so they know what you have to say and how to reach you.
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