How to Communicate with Your City Councillor
1. What is a City Councillor?
2. Who is my City Councillor?
3. When should I communicate with my City Councillor?
4. How should I communicate with my City Councillor?
5. How do I contact my City Councillor?
a. Meeting in person
b. Speaking on the telephone
c. Writing letters
6. Are there there other ways to contact City Councillors?
In all major cities, citizens elect an individual to act as a representative for their neighbourhood or ward in their local government. This individual is responsible for ensuring the concerns of their citizens are being brought up in local government affairs. Some actions that your City Councillor can do for you include:
- Holding community meetings in the ward
- Mailing out information to the constituency
- Raising questions at City Council meetings
- Asking for reports or research from municipal staff
- Holding media conferences with partners on key issues
Together, neighbourhood or ward representatives comprise a city’s council, which is the main governing and legislative body for a city. In Toronto, this representative is a called a City Councillor. Toronto City Council consists of the Mayor and 44 City Councillors. Each City Councillor represents one of the city’s wards. City Councillors also sit on committees, community councils and boards in their ward and for citywide issues (City of Toronto, 2014).
To find out who your City Councillor is, simply enter your home address into the City of Toronto’s ward profiles website.
You can contact your City Councillor for a variety of reasons, for example:
- To ask how they will be voting on an upcoming issue
- To encourage them to vote for or against a particular issue
- To provide information that does not seem to be well understood about a current issue
- To request their attendance at an event
As an advocate, you can communicate with your City Councillor:
- When they can influence an upcoming decision that interests you.
- When you can offer them insight into an issue that interests you.
- When you want to use their position on an issue or presence at an event to attract attention to an issue.
Communication with your City Councillor should be focused, clear and polite.
Focus: When you phone, email, or write to the Councillor, you should focus on one issue. Focusing on one issue allows you to speak clearly and straightforwardly and to make a particular, achievable request of the Councillor. This provides the Councillor with a clear message that this issue is of importance to their ward and they will be able to respond with a focused answer.
Clarity: Keep your language simple and brief. You want to ensure that the Councillor’s attention is not lost before they get to the end of your message. If you have a particular request of the Councillor or a question for them, make sure it is clearly stated. If you would like a response from the Councillor, ask directly for one and provide your preferred method of response.
Politeness: Showing passion for an issue is important, but maintain a positive and polite tone in your speech or writing. City Councillors receive many requests each day and you should demonstrate the tone that you wish to receive back from the Councillor. If you are angry about an issue, directing this anger at the City Councillor will not establish a positive working relationship with the Councillor.
Getting in touch with your City Councillor is easier than you think! City Councillors are eager to meet with their constituents. There are several ways to communicate with your City Councillor: meeting with them in-person, talking to them on the telephone, and writing a letter. All of their contact information is listed on the City of Toronto ward profiles website.
Commonly, a staff member in the City Councillor’s office, such as their administrative assistant, will be your first point of contact. You may choose to leave your message or request with the administrative assistant, or you may choose to schedule another time to speak directly with the City Councillor. To stay organized, record the names of the individuals that you speak to at the constituency office. Not only does this maintain consistency, but it can also help establish a friendly rapport with staff.
Setting up an appointment (telephone or email)
- Advise the constituency staff of the issue you would like to discuss and what you want to achieve.
- Also advise them of anyone else who will be attending the meeting.
- Have patience and be flexible in setting a date and time for the meeting.
- Follow up. Confirm the date, time, location and length of the scheduled meeting.
|Before your meeting||At your meeting||After your meeting|
Councillors have busy schedules, so it may be difficult to arrange a telephone conversation. If you cannot wait for your Councillor to become available, you can still speak with your Councillor’s assistant, who can pass your message along. For an effective telephone conversation, keep the following in mind:
- Introduce yourself and identify yourself as a constituent. You can do so by providing your postal code or address.
- Give the reason for your call, and explain what concerns you.
- Ask pointed questions.
- Ask for a commitment to action.
- Let you Councillor know that this issue will matter to you in the next election.
- Follow up. Find out what actions were taken as a result of your call, and respond appropriately.
Writing a letter to your City Councillor, either by email or by post, can be an effective way to communicate your concern or support for an issue. Although similar, it is important to note that writing to your City Councillor as their constituent differs from submitting a written comment to a committee of council. While you may write to your City Councillor at any time for any issue, submitting written comments follows a more formal process.
When writing to your City Councillor, keep in mind the style and content of your letter. Toronto Environmental Alliance has a great sample letter for writing to your City Councillor that you can use as a guide.
- Try to make your letter personal by including your own experiences.
- Keep to the same topic and emphasize two or three major points.
- Be concise. Try to keep the letter to one page and do not exceed two pages.
- If you have more information to share, include any materials in the envelope or attach it to your email.
- Include your name and contact information.
- State your objective from the outset. Follow with a brief introduction outlining your concerns.
- Describe your interest in and any experience you have with the issue.
- Ask questions that prompt a response. Ask for clarification on your City Councillor’s position.
- Request a commitment to a specific action, and give rationale for your request.
- Thank them for any positive action they have taken in the past on your issue.
- Request that the City Councillor respond to your letter.
It’s always important to stay organized and follow up. Stay organized by keeping a copy of the letter you sent so that you can easily refer back to it when needed. Follow up by writing back to your City Councillor thanking them for their response, and reminding them of any commitments that they have made. You can also increase your impact by sharing your letter with other individuals and organizations that are advocating for your issue.
Depending on your issue, advocacy organizations will sometimes provide letter templates on their websites. Letter templates are useful when you are unsure of what to say, but still want voice your support for an issue.
As mentioned above, City Councillors also sit on committees, community councils, and boards. To view a list of these groups, visit the Toronto City Council and Committees website.
For some citywide issues, you may find that a particular committee is working towards goals that interest you. Following the work of committees can be another way to get informed and involved in Toronto’s municipal government. Committees hold regular meetings, many of which you can attend as an interested member of the public. The meeting times are posted at the committees link above – just click on the committee that interests you. You can also see meeting minutes from past meetings if you would like to see what issues have been discussed and what decisions have been made. As well, committees often have requests for public comment, meaning they want to hear from the public about a particular issue. Whether you are presenting a deputation or submitting a written comment, making a public comment is a great opportunity to address a number of City Councillors at once about an issue they have on their agenda.