Our Big City Mayor and Our Dirty Little Secret

We’ve moved up in the world, that’s why the international media is here covering our mayor. We’re the fourth largest city in North America, a major investment centre, a place where people want to live, work, study, and play. Our standard of living is consistently ranked amongst the top ten cities worldwide. Toronto has snuck its way onto the world stage and now everybody knows our dirty little secret – our relationship with a maelstrom of a mayor.Your future sign on TTC streetcar.

Our mayor’s story is giving Toronto a black eye. Scarborough councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the city’s Economic Development Committee, said Rio de Janeiro’s mayor doesn’t want to pursue a friendship agreement with Toronto anymore, “given its current situation with the mayor of Toronto”.

Le Monde’s Charlotte Chabas, in town covering the mayor, was at The Stop’s Farmer’s Market at the Wychwood Barns. I asked her what the French think of all of this. She said Europeans understand that citizens are so angry they’ll even support a mayor who smokes crack if he tells them he’ll save them money.Tanzinian nun and calf.

Six years ago I was in Bangkok sitting on a bench in a park. A little girl ran up to me, smiled, and gave me a flower. I told her mother I was from Toronto. The girl would be in her teens now. I wonder if she’s seen that clip of our mayor talking about his sex life. I wonder what the nuns in Tanzania think about Toronto. When I visited them with my family the nuns named a newborn calf ‘Toronto’, in our honour. Toronto, samahani (Kiswahili for I’m sorry) on behalf of all Torontonians.

How Torontonian of me

I used to describe Toronto-the-good as a small, clean version of New York City, but without the crime, “You don’t need to worry about being in the wrong part of town,” I would say. People listened in awe as I listed our public services, especially the library services, “You can order a book from any library branch and have it delivered to your neighbourhood branch for pick-up. A computer phones your home and tells you when it’s in.”

Graffiti.Ten years ago, on a trip to Southeast Asia, I met a group of young Americans. A big communal smile lit up their faces when I told them I was from Toronto. They had visited our city many times and thought it was a wonderful place with a great arts vibe and so multicultural. I was taken aback. I knew all of that to be true but I didn’t know everyone else knew, and admired us for it. How Torontonian of me.

I was just beginning to enjoy Toronto’s growing fame when our mayor was elected. Today, I long for the good old days when nobody knew where Toronto was; when my European friends wondered why I didn’t live in Montreal. I cringe at the thought of telling someone I’m from here.

A battered city

Decorated library door.

Library decorated by supporters during 2012 shutdown.

Our growing, bustling, forward-thinking city, poised to win the hearts of the world, has been pummelled by a mayor who doesn’t know when to quit and belligerently screams for “cuts, cuts, cuts”. Two years ago, in keeping with the mayor’s anti-“gravy train” agenda, and on top of past cuts, 21 city councillors voted to slash our library budget by 17 million dollars; an amount that would have bruised and battered our much-loved and admired library system. Luckily, 22 councillors stepped in to save the day.

It feels like Toronto is in an abusive relationship with its elected officials who bask in the admiration of the city while delivering blows to the very assets and social services that make it so liveable. Our mayor is big news because we’re a big city, and we elected him and his council. What does that say about us? No wonder Rio de Janeiro doesn’t want to be our friend.

We’ve got big-city challenges to tackle: rising public transit fares, gridlock, lack of affordable housing. At the Toronto Community Foundation’s 2013 Vital Signs launch, president and CEO Rahul K. Bhardwaj, noted that one million Torontonians now live in low or very-low-income neighbourhoods. “Take a closer look,” the report warns, “and you’ll see worrying cracks in the foundation – alarming trend lines that are unprecedented in this city.”

The budget process has begun. Will city councillors act as enablers or will they be brave enough to do the right thing and treat our city with respect, and redeem a cow’s namesake?

Toronto the cow.– Elizabeth Cinello
Photos by Elizabeth Cinello

Learn more about the city’s budget at Civic 17’s “Cracking Open the Budget” December 5, 6:30 pm, Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre.


I wanted you to know how thoughtful I found this recent post about Toronto. People thinking through and articulating exactly what Rob Ford has done and will do to our great city. It really made me think about responding in a similar way similar. Opposite to the kind of reports we are use to reading. It made me think of the many countries I visited and proudly wore my Canadian pin on my backpack. Hate to think of the conversations that would conjure up these days.
Posted on my Facebook page as a result of your blog that we shouldn’t forget that Harper, Flaherty and Mike Harris along with the Conservative campaign team helped get Ford elected. Something we shouldn’t forget.
Cheryl Kryzaniwsky, Port Elgin, Ontario

This is great stuff….good on you all for putting in out there!
Joe Mihevc, Toronto

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