How'd You Get That Job? Samara speaks with Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton

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How'd You Get That Job? Wednesday, July 23, 2014 View Count = 2146

How'd You Get That Job? Samara speaks with Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton

Thank you to the Jack Layton Fellows for connecting us with Councillor Mike Layton. The FCM Board of Directors launched the fellowship to celebrate Jack Layton’s legacy of engaging young Canadians in politics – read more about the program here.


What inspired you to get involved in politics?

Politics, the environment, and social justice were always top of mind growing up in a political household. At a young age, I was protesting wars, fighting to close an incinerator, and picketing with striking workers for the right to unionize. All of this opened my eyes to the power of people and political movements and inspired me to work to build a better world. I fundamentally believe that we need to build a more just, fair, and loving society to ensure the long-term success of our society and species, and the only way we do it is through organized social change.

How did you become a city councilor? What path brought you to this role?

I studied political science and urban planning in University. Following my academic education, I moved into community organizing working with people to enhance their voice in policy making. For several years I worked for a national environmental organization called Environmental Defence for a cleaner environment and a shift towards a green economy. In 2010, I learned that our local city councilor would be stepping down and I began speaking to residents about who would be a suitable candidate. Several people eventually convinced me to run for council as my values, experience, and approach to problem solving were key traits they were looking for in a local City Councillor. After six months of knocking on doors, making phonecalls, debates, and putting up lawn signs, on October 25th, 2010 I was elected City Councillor for Ward 19.

What does a day-in-the-life of a city councilor look like?

Every day is different, but all of them are long. There is a monthly cycle of standing committee, community council, and City Council meetings that is similar from month to month. Many of my weekdays are spent in those various committees addressing different issues, and listening to community members as they speak about items before a committee and asking questions of City staff. Most other days are spent in meetings from 9 am and 5 pm at City Hall with residents, business owners or city staff working on various issues in the community. My evenings are spent at community meetings about development proposals, parks, and other issues impacting the local community. There is a lot of reading and other correspondence to answer which is done between meetings, early in the morning and in the evenings.


 


  What has been your favourite moment in this job?

During 2013, I was working with a group of residents fighting a proposed mega-casino in downtown Toronto. We were up against some powerful and wealthy adversaries and the casino had the support of the provincial government and key members of City Council including the Mayor. We had been working with no budget for several months, but gaining momentum. On April 4 2013, we helped coordinate a group of religious leaders from across Toronto to speak out against the casino plans. These community leaders held a press conference at City Hall representing over a dozen religious groups, speaking in 10 different languages. As I stood listening to these representatives speak, it struck me that all around the world some of these same groups were in battles with each other and in Toronto we were all working together towards a common goal. I was very proud for my contribution.

What skills or expertise are required for this job?

You need to be a good listener. A large part of this job is listening to your constituents, listening for advice from staff, and listening to your colleagues. Being an active listener is important; people need to feel they have been heard.

You need to be a good facilitator and negotiator between various people and sets of ideas and you need to keep an open mind. You need to think creatively to solve problems.

Communication skills are critical and so are public speaking skills.

Most importantly, you need passion for your work. This is a hard job and it can be exhausting. You need a very strong passion for the issues you are working on and the people you are working for.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a job like yours? What is a good first step for them to take?

Get involved and get informed. Be more involved in your school, surrounding community or other organizations. Find an issue you feel passionate about solving, learn as much as possible about it and find other people who care about that issue as well. Start reading newspapers every morning and get informed about what is happening in your community, country, and world. Don't get stuck on being an elected official, there are many different ways to have a positive impact in politics.


Mike Layton is the City Councillor for Ward 19 in Toronto and has lived in Trinity-Spadina for over 25 years.

Before being elected on October 25, 2010 to serve as one of Toronto’s youngest Councillors, Mike worked for political change from the other side of the table, as an environmental leader and community organizer.  As Deputy Outreach Director for Environmental Defence, one of Canada’s leading environmental groups, he championed a variety of successful initiatives including the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, green building standards, water conservation and source water protection.

Mike holds a LEEDs Accreditation (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), in addition to earning a Masters in Environmental Studies, with a focus on citizen participation in urban planning. These qualifications followed his BA in Political Science and Environmental Management.


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