The city of Toronto will tweak the format for its remaining casino public-consultation sessions after concerns from some attendees that they were not given an opportunity to speak, and criticism from Mayor Rob Ford that some councillors worked to "hijack" the first meeting.
The first session was held at City Hall Wednesday night. Instead of formal presentations, city staff spread out along the rotunda to answer individual questions. Information about the potential casino was displayed on posters.
About half an hour into the session, councillor Gord Perks – who is opposed to the casino – climbed up on a chair and apologized for the meeting's format. He invited attendees to a committee room one floor up to discuss the project. After Mr. Perks spoke, fellow councillor Adam Vaughan – who also opposes the casino – got up on the chair and called for a show of hands for those in favour of the project and those against it.
On Thursday, Mr. Ford said he was "very disappointed" in how the councillors behaved.
"There are some people, a lot of people, really want to listen to the pros and cons of having a casino and we'll just have to make sure the next meeting isn't turned into a circus like this last one was," the mayor said after stepping out of a budget meeting.
Joe Pennachetti, the city manager, said changes will be made for the four remaining sessions.
"We are looking at adjusting the format a little bit for the remainder, but not major changes," he said. "We'll probably have a room where people can voice their opinions. That'll be the only change."
The next public consultation will be held Saturday afternoon at North York Memorial Hall.
Mr. Ford was not alone in his criticism Thursday. Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the city's public works committee, said any concerns about the format should have been raised with staff.
"There are a lot of antics that are going on," he said. "Even if you vehemently oppose casinos, there is a requirement that decorum has to prevail. I don't think you need sideshows."
Councillor Shelley Carroll said the councillors should apologize to city staff.
Mr. Perks and Mr. Vaughan, however, gave no indication they would apologize. Quite the contrary.
Mr. Perks said he was "delighted" with how the evening turned out.
He said people had been coming up to him at the session to ask when they would get their chance to speak.
"For the first half hour of that meeting, I had two dozen conversations with people who said, 'I came down here for a chance to talk. When do I get to do that?' It was at the urging of Torontonians that a group of us thought, 'OK, we should actually have a real town-hall meeting tonight.' "
Mr. Vaughan disputed any notion that the councillors hijacked the meeting. "It's not a question of hijacking the consultation process. We didn't feed them with information. We listened to them. And if listening to the public corrupts the process, I'm not quite sure what I understand the process to be any more," he said.
Councillor Doug Ford said the session was just the latest example of the difficulty the city has when it tries to consult with the public. "You know what happens down here. Only the special interest groups show up," he said. "Just anyone in opposition shows up."
He characterized the councillors' behaviour as an unacceptable "bully tactic" designed to intimidate. "Just imagine if Rob or I jumped on a chair – No. 1 it wouldn't hold us – just imagine if we jumped up in a room and started screaming at people."
With a report from Ian Merringer