Toronto councillor to Margaret Atwood on library closures: "get elected to office or pipe down"

Toronto councillor Doug Ford (brother of Toronto's thuggish mayor Rob Ford) has attacked beloved Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood, saying he wouldn't recognize her if she walked down the street, and that she should keep her opinions about planned Toronto library closures to herself. The councillor said that if Atwood wanted to comment on policy, "she should get herself elected to office or pipe down." Doug Ford previously promised to privatise or shut down "everything that isn't nailed down" in the city.

Atwood criticized Ford via Twitter, after Ford incorrectly stated that his district had more libraries than Tim Horton's outlets (TH being a ubiquitous Canadian donut chain). Ford declared that a library he's slated for closure in his ward is "unnecessary" though the Toronto Star reports that it circulates 96,328 books per year (another 16,550 are used in the branch) and serves 39,775 patrons a year. The 2006 census put his ward's population at 53,660.

“Well good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don’t even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is,” said the councillor and advisor to his brother, Mayor Rob Ford, after a committee meeting on proposed cuts.

“She’s not down here, she’s not dealing with the problem. Tell her to go run in the next election and get democratically elected. And we’d be more than happy to sit down and listen to Margaret Atwood.”

Atwood, an activist on literary and human rights causes, waded into municipal politics in a minor way last Thursday.

It's great to see Atwood standing up for libraries. She had previously compared Canada's fair dealing laws (which are critical to the library system) to car theft.

Doug Ford blasts Margaret Atwood over libraries, says ‘I don’t even know her’ (via Beth Pratt)


  1. Wading into municipal politics?  Eww.  I wouldn’t do that without wearing rubber boots.  And I’d have to incinerate them afterwards.  The boots, not the politicians… 

      1. It’s not dead.  I’m just omnipresent.  Plus, being annoying on other people’s Web sites is easier than actually attempting to put any content less than 15 years old on my Web site.  (Someday I’m going to blow it up and replace it with a picture of a cat.  Or has somebody else already done pictures of cats on the Web?)

  2. At the world book night launch in Trafalgar Square back in March, several of the authors reading mentioned libraries closing as absolute filth, including Atwood, and Alan Bennett memorably likened it to child abuse, to thunderous applause.

  3. Idiocracy rears its ugly head again.  Korporate elite visited China and loved what they saw, and now are pressuring thier toadies world wide to make it so.  Boot in face, everything you ever wanted out of government destroyed, everything you loved about living in a democracy destroyed, leaving only millions starving and willing to bow and scrape for scraps.

  4. *facepalm*

    This makes me want to get into politics even sooner if possible. He must have skipped English classes in highschool, I don’t think there’s a sole student who didn’t have to read her work..

    And for the simple fact he doesn’t value her opinion, and that she must be an ‘elected’ politician to have a ‘valid response’ to listen is quite sickening, disturbing.

    We’re all politicians BTW, we just didn’t run to be a representative for others and do it full-time because a) we’re too busy doing what we’re passionate about doing, or trying to survive and keep our family supported and alive.

    But that’s how this goes — ying / yang cycle. You get people who fuck things up and piss off other people, and usually it’s only when things are fucked up enough that the really good people who understand how things work are motivated enough to start being representatives; Though it’s also a long path and struggle to position yourself in life to be able to take on role of representative of society. And kudos to anyone who does it without just money but also those who are a people person and aren’t short-sighted.

  5. Ah yes, the Fords. The newly elected Mayor Rob Ford and his older, more aggressive brother Doug once again promote ignorance as a sign of strength. They, in all fairness, got themselves elected on the backs of a “reduce the gravy train” platform where they promised to reduce taxes amongst other things, and of course they have already announced they wont be doing any of that and have gone after services instead….

  6. “Well good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don’t even know her.”

    She’s the one making the strong-copyright arguments for term extensions and reduced exceptions.  They need to be 70 years’ duration, because 50 isn’t enough.  Or is it that they need to be 90 years long, because 70 isn’t enough?  Or was that 110 years, because 90 isn’t enough?  It’s so confusing!

  7. It’s discouraging to see attitudes like this not just in the U.S. but also in Canada and elsewhere. All this so called Libertarianism and privatization mania are a return to Feudalism. Fuck that. Atwood and the rest of us must keep up the fight against it.

  8. Getting past Doug Ford’s hyperbole, as far as I’ve been able to find out there are 13 library branches in Mr. Ford’s Ward.  If, in fact, he only has 50K or so residents in his ward – that’s basically a branch for each 3.8K residents – which to me seems like a high ratio – but I presume that people outside his ward would use them.

    According to this article 

    (I think, it’s not exactly clear) closing those branches would bring the overall Library density down to 3.9 per 100000 people which is comparable to Vancouver.  Which personally I don’t think is that bad, so while I do like books and libraries, I’m not sure that making them sacred cows and saying you can never close a library without being called an illiterate neanderthal is an appropriate reaction.  

    But perhaps this argument is less about closing libraries and more about Doug Ford’s outlandish statement about not being able to recognize Margaret Atwood – which to be fair I’m not sure I could either, I’m familiar with her work just never enough to want to see what she looks like.

    1. RedMonkey, true many are going after the outlandish statements Doug Ford said about not knowing who Margaret Atwood is. However, a lot of people are pissed off at Rob & Doug because they were elected on promises of cutting costs with efficiencies to Toronto city hall and guaranteeing no service cuts. Instead the Fords cut taxes and froze property taxes and to make up for the revenue shortfall is going after services that many people feel they don’t need to cut. Without these tax cuts, the city actually had a surplus budget last year and so they can afford these libraries.

    2. Etobicoke North (Ward 2) has approximately 55k people –

      There are thirteen libraries in all of Etobicoke  but only 3 in Dougie’s ward –

      So the ratio is about one library for every 18000 residents in his ward.

      From the Star article: Toronto has one library for every 28,120 citizens, fewer than Hamilton (one branch per 21,629); Ottawa (27,527); and Vancouver (27,976). But Toronto does
      better than Mississauga (40,555); Montreal (36,833) and Calgary (61,346). 

  9. Did he really just snub someone with, “And you are?”

    Did he think he was elected to the movie Mean Girls?

  10. Doug Ford puts Toronto and Canada to shame. Nothing wrong with closing libraries but insulting MA is a sacrilege.

  11. Ms. Atwood’s prescient novels should cause this fool to think twice about his ignorant pronouncements. Her work parallels the world as it is and as it may become in a way that I find terrifying. He needs to understand the strength of her vision and fight against the trends she describes.

  12. Because everyone knows, the only ways citizens can participate in a democracy are by voting or getting elected. Nothing important has ever been accomplished by citizens convincing each other or pressuring their elected officials to change their policies. If it has, it was unfair and those people should have just piped down and stopped being uppity.

  13. See, I don’t think the biggest problem is that he says he wouldn’t recognise Atwood on the street (although that’s a problem in and of itself) but that he seems to think that unless someone is a politician, they don’t get to have a say in the way the city’s run.  Which is a chilling thought for those of us who live in the city, and really puts a big question mark on the upcoming ‘consultation’ sessions on city services.

    There are those, however, that say Doug always just says stupid things to distract people from the latest things Rob does.  In this case, Rob apparently was on his cell phone while driving (illegal in Ontario, and a bad example anyway) and when a woman called him on it, he apparently gave her the finger. Within hours, this MA thing came up.

  14. Maybe Atwood should start hanging out with Neil Gaiman. Ford would then be able to recognize Atwood by association with the “pencil-necked weasel-thief,” or whatever it was that the idiot legislator from Minnesota called Gaiman.

  15. What a frackin’ bozo.  I don’t exactly approve of Margaret Atwood, but the fact that an elected official has no idea who she even is shows why we need public libraries.

    Also, saying that people should sit down and shut up unless they’re elected to office is a more naked expression of oligarchic sentiment than I’ve heard in a while.  In a democracy elected officials are supposed to represent the people; the people don’t just turn over all thought to them!

  16. Sigh…and still toronto has yet to earn back its capitalization.
    What happens when it’s not even a city? just a bunch of telemarketing offices surrounded by a massive suburb/slum?

  17. Elected representatives are public servants. Thus, a member of the public criticising a public official is simply a boss telling off his or her under performing subordinate. A boss certainly does not need to become a subordinate in order to tell off another subordinate.

    Anyone who is uncomfortable being subordinate to, and serving at the pleasure of, the general public is free to refrain from running for public office.

  18. I agree that sometimes a library may need to be closed.  But why can’t politicians just say the facts — “we have this much money, and there are these many libraries and there are these many people.  These are the choices…  Ms. Atwood, as a constituent, we would be happy to hear another reasonable option if you have one.”  Why do the Fords need to get into these ridiculous situations every time?  (I know, I know, it’s what got them elected).

  19. Doug also said that it ‘wouldn’t bother’ his constituents if that branch closed down.  So a reporter went to the branch.  SPOILER ALERT: they don’t want it closed.–constituents-to-ford-lose-our-library-and-lose-our-votes

    I can’t find it now…but yesterday in an article it said the libraries had 1700 staff and $177million in REVENUE.  Did anyone else see that?  I’m confused as to how they would have a revenue that high…unless they’re talking about ASSETS.  If it is revenue, why get rid of it, or pare it down?  That being said, they’ve also floated the idea of privatizing Toronto Parking…which ALSO makes money.  Selling off assets will ONLY help this years PROJECTED shortfall.  FYI – Last years projected shortfall under the Miller administration was $800 million.  In the end, with NO SERVICE CUTS, they ended up with a ‘surplus’ of $350million.  The year before about about $180million.  The surplus being the difference between projected budget, and what was actually used.

    1. “If it is revenue, why get rid of it, or pare it down?”

      You have stumbled upon the whole point of privatization. It has nothing to do with raising service quality or efficiency, and everything to do with selling off profitable public services at fire sale prices.

      1. revenue != profit

        I find it hard to believe a library is a profitable business, but if anyone has stats to show me otherwise I’m interested to see.

      2. Exactly.  And if they’re serious about it,  I say they’ve committed fraud. In that, selling off a money making asset only makes matters worse, and doesn’t solve ANY of the ‘gravy’ at City Hall.  In fact, it would mean having to make MORE cuts to balance the books. 
        Then again…facts have never been his strong suit.  Or voting for ANY grants to pretty much anyone…

  20. Atwood hates that people call her stuff Sci Fi, won’t allow it to be shelved in Sci Fi, and gets all stuffy, snobby, and indignant at the suggestion.  She basically hates SF while writing it.  That makes her hard to like, ya know?

  21. RedMonkey: I’m pretty sure his ward has more than 50K people. Etobicoke has over 300,000, the riding of Etobicoke North has over 100,000.

  22. i’s no’ abou’ profi’, i’s abou’ access to information, i’s abou civil socie’y, i’s abou’ ‘istorical impera’ives, i’s abou’ no’ becoming a socie’y of idio’s
    I ‘ave long ha’ed A’wood, she’s a righ’ pompous twa’, bu’ she’s righ’ this time

  23. The councillor said that if Atwood wanted to comment on policy, “she should get herself elected to office or pipe down.

    Note to self: cancel plan to marry for Canadian citizenship.

  24. He’s got a point though hasn’t he? The difference between a single issue campaigner and a politician is that the latter has to balance interests, whereas the former doesn’t have to worry about what has to give in order to fund their pet scheme…

    1. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t lobbyists have to get elected to have input? As citizens of a city, any time we want we can comment on policy.  We do it when we vote, we do it when we protest, we do it when we write letters.  His comment basically says its meaningless unless you’re elected.  It’s not.  And he’s wrong.  Currently, there are 280 citizens scheduled to depute tomorrow at City Hall.  They won’t get through them all tomorrow.  It’s 23.3 hours of deputation.  Most of them will be ‘single issue campaigners’.

  25. I have to admit that RedMonkey makes sense here.  If Doug had said something like: “You elected me to cut government spending.  That is what I am doing by closing this library and saving the city $xxx,xxx/year.  There are 12 other libraries you can go to within walking distance.”

    If he had said that, he would be making many fewer enemies.  I still don’t agree with the decision, but had he made that argument, at least I could respectfully disagree with him.

  26. “Rob and Doug”.  Is anyone else having old SNL flashbacks here for Bob and Doug Mackenzie?

  27. I’m sure I’ll be shouted down, but in the digital age, why do we need brick and mortar libraries, in their current form? I LOVE books, and I like the idea of public access to books, but why not have a much more economized sort of library where the books are stored, you reserve them online, and go pick them up. Eventually when everything goes digital, you can close those as well.

    As for the internet function, spend the public money on municipal wifi. Buy every school age kid a laptop. It just makes more sense than keeping things in place that aren’t necessary any longer.

    1. King Mob, I won’t shout.  We need them for a variety of reasons.  As pointed out above (or somewhere else), they are basically the last public, free, any one is admissible gathering places.  Rich or poor, you can go.  It doesn’t really cost you anything.  If they were to close, we lose that.  Some are used as cooling centres for those who do not have air-conditioning as well.  As to a the centralization of the system. We kind of have that system already.  You can reserve books and have them sent to your local branch.  The only difference is that the books are stored cross city, versus in a few central locations.  The problem with this system is that the poor also use the system and might not be able to access a computer at home, which is why they are at the library.  Same thing with digital, with the added cost that the licenses need to be renewed, adding cost to the system.  Public Wifi, though a good idea, is only good for those who have devices, again, singling out the poor who will possibly be without.  Libraries are an even playing field for everyone.

      Anyone remember the LAST time we got rid of libraries in this world?

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