Sometimes you feel really hooked into Toronto as a friendly and empowering city, a place where as an individual you have some status, where your existence is important and where what you do actually matters.
With spring in the air, it’s the feeling you want to have.
In the United States, that feeling seems to be widespread. Barack Obama is making Americans feel proud to be part of that country by talking about (and acting on) the big issues. He’s making strong appeals to civic engagement, and saying people should be treated better and with more respect. Many Canadians are proud of what he’s doing and are proud to be with the Americans on this agenda.
But these positive feelings for Toronto aren’t so obvious. Many Torontonians feel turned off by the city, disengaged from what the city seems to stand for. Decisions are being made over our heads. Our leaders don’t place much value on what we think.
One problem is that our municipal leaders seem to be squabbling among themselves. For instance, one group of politicians has used the rules to prevent a majority of councillors from voting on whether there should be a pay increase for councillors this year. When a rump group can disempower a majority of elected representatives, you know there’s trouble. It doesn’t give you a reason to embrace the city.
Mayor David Miller has made some small moves to suggest he wants more transparency and openness — I guess that’s what he was doing with his Twittering — but it seems half-hearted. We need to hear passionate speeches from him on important public policies.
He needs to talk about public processes that include us in imaginative ways. He should loosen up on managing his own political agenda, and spend more time engaging the public.
The city needs an injection of spring-like fresh spirit from its leaders, something that tells us governing Toronto is about us, not about them. Without that kind of spirit, it’s hard to pretend we live in a great city.