A year ago, a teenage girl went to city hall in the dead of night to take on Mayor Rob Ford. Along with 168 others who came to speak to the mayor and his executive committee as part of a landmark 22-hour meeting on proposed service cuts, she permanently changed the tone of municipal politics in Toronto — and made for a really bad night for Rob Ford.
“I’m not a director, I’m no president, I’m just a 14-year-old from Scarborough,” started Anika Tabovaradan, her voice shaking as she talked about Woodside Square library. As part of Ford’s Core Service Review budget process, her library branch — and other programs and services — had been threatened with deep cutbacks.
Between sobs, Anika pleaded with the mayor to maintain service at libraries across the city. “I’m no taxpayer,” she said, “but when I get to use the computers in the library and do my homework, I’ll be able to get a good job … and when the day comes to pay taxes, I’ll be glad that you supported people paying the extra taxes to keep the system going.”
When she finished, the crowd in the meeting room erupted with applause.
The meeting wasn’t supposed to go this way. Going in, the mayor’s office charted a strategy under the assumption that the people signed up to speak would be the usual suspects: union leaders and downtown social activists. By letting the meeting extend late, the theory was that most in attendance would give up and go home.
But that didn’t happen. As Ford chugged energy drinks, a lot of people stuck around to speak for their five minutes. In addition to Anika’s 2 a.m. plea, the mayor heard from business owners, entrepreneurs, seniors, parents and an assortment of average people from all parts of Toronto. Only three speakers expressed any support for cuts to city services.
A year later, the impact of that July 28 meeting is still being felt. Ford, elected in a landslide only months earlier, saw his approval rating drop sharply. To save face, the mayor’s office quickly backed away from the idea of closing library branches altogether. Later, as opposition grew, Ford took even more proposed cuts off the table.
And Toronto City Council, seemingly emboldened by the message received from constituents, has since led a charge against Ford’s major attempts to implement service cuts and austerity measures.
A lot has happened in the last year to derail this mayoral administration, but the origins of Ford’s political misfortune trace back to that fateful night — and the 14-year-old girl who looked the mayor in the eye and so bravely spoke.
Watch Anika’s speech: