Backroom Briefing Q: What Kind Of Social Issues Do You Deal With At City Hall?

Q: We’ve had high unemployment and prices keep going up. What kind of social issues do you deal with through the Mayor’s Office? –Rennie Marshall

Goyette: Rennie—the person who asked this question—was a candidate for City Councillor in Monaghan Ward in the 2010 municipal election. She is an inveterate political groupie and informed City Hall watcher.  (A Cityhallic?)

Municipal government and its association with the delivery of social services has long been a moving target.

 In Ontario, the first framework for local self government came about as a result of The Municipal Corporations Act of 1849, better known as The Baldwin Act. At the time, cities and towns had a limited role in providing social services that was focused on the funding of charities.  The modern welfare state in Ontario really got underway in the late 19th Century with the Great Reform government of Oliver Mowat, at a time when poverty was associated with a moral failing that was remedied by “Houses of Industry and Refuge”—the original poorhouses—or jail.  

Toronto hired its first “Relief Officer” in 1893. Compassion for First World War disabled soldiers and their families led to the introduction of a number of social services such as Mother’s Allowance and the first public pensions, as did the Great Depression that gave rise to a variety of employment related benefits. Civil and human rights movements have propelled the modern municipal agenda that now includes social assistance, housing, hostels, employment, counselling, child care, wage subsidy, nursing and homemaking—the bulk of which are mandatory and cost-shared between the City and the province.

When people ask what issues we deal with in the Mayor’s office, my answer is all of them. Our role in the field of social services is to provide cooperative leadership in setting an agenda, choosing priorities, finding the balance between compassion and fiscal responsibility, reviewing reports and agendas, liaising with staff, preparing reports and motions, advocating with other levels of government, communicating the City’s plans and programs, and carrying out constituent relations.  

It’s this last category of social service that Rennie likely has in mind. People communicate with the Mayor every day, and some of them do so in person and unannounced. On their arrival at the Office—which they often see as a place of last resort—they are sometimes confused, resigned or despondent. Some recent examples we have dealt with involve personal issues of homelessness, food, inability to pay bills, family violence, child custody, depression, addiction and banishment from agencies. (There are also the angry, like the person who mailed his parking ticket payment to the Mayor in a large, heavy envelope containing 80 carefully and individually wrapped loonies.)

It may come in different forms, but it’s all social service.


David Goyette is the Executive Assistant to Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett. Email your burning questions for David about City Hall to

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