Mar 11

When it’s time to party we will party hard

At Eye Weekly, Edward Keenan makes the case for bringing parties to municipal politics in Toronto:

The way municipal government in Toronto currently functions is already similar to a party system: right now, the mayor seems to be directly controlling the votes of about 22 councillors. The opposition, organized around the NDP’s unofficial caucus, controls about 14 or 15 votes. The other dozen or so are swing votes. It’s just that everyone pretends there are no teams, because every councillor wants to appear to be a free-thinker, with allegiance only to his or her constituents.

But formalizing party alliances would add some coherence to the debate. Councillors have an obligation to consider their local constituents, while parties could specialize in big-picture, city-wide thinking. Instead of having a single vision—the mayor’s—that each councillor, for varying reasons, is either for or against, we’d have two or three separate articulated visions. The mayor’s proposals could be weighed against alternatives, rather than simply against the status quo.

via Let’s get these parties started – EYE WEEKLY.

I do think there’s some merit to the idea, especially as it would serve to codify what already exists. I’d hate for things to get so rigid, though, that council votes would be a foregone conclusion. One of the things that makes council so entertaining is that – despite the whips – votes often go in unexpected and surprising ways.

The real benefit to parties would be that it would force some councillors who like to keep quiet to actually develop principles (and, sure, ideology) rather than tailoring their views to whomever the mayor happens to be.

Feb 11

What pushed Doug Ford to publicly call for a strong mayor system?

The city hall headlines of the day are once again being made by the newly elected councillor from Ward 2 – Etobicoke North, who — it must be continually said — is neither the mayor nor deputy mayor. Nor does he chair any of the city’s standing committees. He recently moved back from Toronto after living in Chicago and has never, to my immediate recollection, been sighted on a TTC vehicle.

But I digress.

In an interview by the Globe & Mail’s Anna Mehler Paperny, Doug Ford fantasizes about a world where he and his brother don’t need to worry about the meddling of other duly elected officials:

It’s been a tough transition for the Ford camp to shift from a highly partisan, highly successful mayoral campaign to the enforced diplomacy of governing, attempting to woo councillors and win votes on a 45-person council with no party system, in which the mayor has only one ballot to cast.

“You’ve always got that council. You’ve got to have your 23 votes to get it passed,” Mr. Ford said.

He’d like the mayor to be able to override council “100 per cent. … So the mayor has veto power.”

via Toronto needs strong mayor with veto power, Doug Ford says – The Globe and Mail.

In the abstract, I would agree — as I did when Miller was in office — that the amalgamated Toronto could use some changes to its governance model. This would include elements of a strong mayor system at the top but also some devolution of powers down to the community council level, allowing the former municipalities of Metro Toronto to govern their local affairs more independently.

More specifically, though, I have to wonder what motivated this outburst from Doug Ford. I don’t have him pegged as the type who gets all charged up about the structure of municipal government. Is there something on the Ford’s immediate agenda that they know they don’t have the votes to pass? If so, what is it?

Feb 11

Government is not a business

Edward Keenan over at Eye Weekly makes the point I kept hoping Ford’s opponents in the election would make:

Still, while we’re at it, we should keep in mind that the people of Toronto are not actually customers of the city, we’re citizens and residents. Similarly, the corporation of the City of Toronto is not primarily a business, nor should it be. Though these seem like obvious distinctions, they are too often overlooked in discussions about how to run things around this place.

via Retail politics – EYE WEEKLY.

It does seem ridiculous that this needs to be brought up, but the anti-government rhetoric in our city has been running at full tilt for the past couple of years. It’s rare these days for anyone to even stop and wonder why a profit-driven private deliverer of a service is preferable to a public deliverer that, by definition, doesn’t care a bit about profits.

And, yes, I know the theory behind market efficiencies and the wonders of competition. And I know too the issues we face with public labour unions, who have little reason to ever make concessions in the face of a government that can infinitely increase revenues. But the reality is that simple “run government like a business” or “outsource everything” hand-waving do nothing more than oversimplify issues which are incredibly complex.

One of my favourite bits of cognitive dissonance is when someone argues for government to be run more like a business, then turns around and complains about large private corporations and their screw-you approach to their customers.