Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Matt Elliott: Here's a New Year’s resolution for you — run for council, make a difference

Toronto voters will elect 47 councillors and a mayor in the Oct. 22 municipal election.
Toronto voters will elect 47 councillors and a mayor in the Oct. 22 municipal election.

Forget going to the gym. To hell with pursuing new skills or hobbies. This year I've got a much better New Year’s Resolution for you: you’re going to run for Toronto City Council.

I know what you’re thinking. “Matt, I’m not qualified.” But here’s the good news: neither are half the people who have been previously elected to Toronto City Council.

And anyway, you might just be more qualified than you think. Do you care about what happens in this city? Do you follow news stories about issues like poverty, transit, housing and policing?

Are you mad about the state of the city? Can you imagine better? Will you commit to knowing basic math and reading documents in their entirety before voting on them?

Then I think you’re qualified.

This October, the city will vote to elect 48 people to council. One of those – just one – will be the mayor. And while the mayor gets a nicer office and a swanky necklace, there isn’t much difference between the mayor and a city councillor when it comes to real political power.

When it comes time to decide on the issues, the mayor is just one vote — the same as any other member of council.

But despite this, mayoral races in Toronto tend to get way more attention than the races for individual council seats. The expected battle between Mayor John Tory and challenger Doug Ford will soak up most of this year’s headlines, while the 47 other elections will get only a passing glance.

And that’s a shame because it’s the result of those 47 races that will determine the direction this city takes over the coming years. If, for example, you’re a voter who would like the city to take a more progressive bent, the solution probably isn't challening Tory for the mayor’s seat, but working instead to replace incumbent councillors or fill empty council seats with new progressive-minded people.

And this is where you come in, dear reader.

There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be you in one of those seats. The timing has never been better. The ward boundaries in Toronto have just been redrawn. There are three new council seats. If you really don’t want to put your name forward as a candidate, then at least get involved in a campaign.

Yes, it will be hard. If you are up against an entrenched incumbent, it might be the longest of longshots. But I am telling you there is a chance.

You already know what happens when good people get complacent and fatalistic about politics. Recent history offers some disastrous examples.

But 2017 also showed us that amazing things can happen when people take chances. Whether it’s a Democratic senator in Alabama or a transgender state representative in Virginia, unlikely things can happen. Longshots pay off.

So do it. You could be the person who brings new diversity and new ideas to Toronto City Hall. You could be the deciding vote in a council debate that makes a difference. In 2018, you could play an active role in making your city better.

Or, I guess, you could try to go to the gym more. But come on. Doesn’t City Hall seem like more fun?

This post was originally published at on 2018-01-01T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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