In her first year on city council, Kristyn Wong-Tam hogged the spotlight with proposals to ban shark fin soup, save bike lanes and found a municipal bank. She’s a charismatic lesbian immigrant art lover who once lived on the street—the exact opposite of our mayor in every way
(Image: Naomi Harris)
The first time Kristyn Wong-Tam clashed with Rob Ford, she lay down on the carpet outside his office in protest. It was March 2008, and Ford was a councillor from Etobicoke, an outspoken character on the fringes of city politics with a talent for alienating his colleagues. Earlier that month, Ford had famously delivered a rambling speech in support of the economic advantages of holiday shopping hours that could have been cribbed from a 19th-century pamphlet about the Yellow Peril. “Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out. They are workers non-stop. They sleep beside their machines,” Ford said on the floor of council, punching the air with his fist for emphasis. “I’m telling you, the Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over.”
That last phrase rankled Wong-Tam. At the time, the 36-year-old Chinese-Canadian was a successful realtor with no ambitions to become a city councillor, a job she saw as demanding far too much time for too little compensation. She did, however, have a long history of rabble-rousing—for gay rights, for women’s equality, for immigrants’ rights—and she believed that Ford’s comment was a xenophobic stereotype that needed to be corrected. She decided to ask for an apology.
After her emails and phone calls went unanswered, Wong-Tam brought a group of around 20 Asian protesters down to city hall. Showing a talent for media-friendly political theatre, they walked down to the press gallery wearing white dress shirts and ties, what Wong-Tam called the “Asian office uniform,” and announced they were looking for Councillor Ford. “Essentially, we’re a group of people who are working very hard,” Wong-Tam quipped, walking to Ford’s office as members of the press trailed behind her. When they found that Ford wasn’t in the building, the group brought out various contraptions—blenders, sewing machines, toasters—and lay down to sleep beside them. Cameras flashed. The video ran on loop on CP24 all afternoon.
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