Monday, February 20, 2012



I hope you're happy. All I wish is that you stew in your stupidity.
The idea of a strong mayor setting the entire agenda for their city has been around for decades. Ontario and Toronto politicians, and "experts?" and ivy-coated profs, thought it would just be great to impose this in Toronto.
I guess they never bothered watching the many strong mayors drunk on power and corruption, with the occasional good idea thrown in for relief, strut around American cities and Montreal.
The headline on this column/blog was last used by me on Nov. 29, 2010. And I wrote about it on July 28, 2008. Indeed I have been writing about it for years.
I even participated in a Board of Trade task force in 2003 making recommendations to Queen's Park on mayoral powers, length of term and other alterations to the municipal system that had been operating reasonably for decades.
I was the only media member. My colleagues, which included Mike Wilson, the former finance minister and ambassador to the United States, Al Leach, the provincial minister who brought amalgamation to Toronto, and some key former insiders, largely ignored my warnings.
I said that a strong mayor was a great idea when you liked the man or woman who was mayor but a terrible ideas if they were dumb or easily manipulated.
Four years was too long as a municipal term, I also argued. Even elephants have shorter gestation periods, so who needs four years to make a difference.
I also argue that council had too many members. No need to defend that. It's obvious from the dysfunctional body we have now.
Wilson thought a mayor should have enough power to get his election promises through. Of course, he was always a federal guy. And we certainly know how the national government is really a one-man government with all those ministers and MPs merely window dressing.
The main problem with democracy today, I argued, is that too many confuse democracy and dictatorship because they're too lazy to let a reasonable process operate.
I reminded our task force about how a board of control had been a great idea. Such boards started as a municipal reform in Albany, New York, around 1915 and were designed to allow the public to chose the cabinet to run the city. It is a compromise between a mayor running everything and a council that tries too. A city works better when you don't put on your political eggs in one basket. And that's what you get when there's a useful tussle over ideas between the mayor who wants to be despot and a council that has real clout because four of its members are also elected city-wide.
Toronto and its big suburbs, and other cities like Hamilton, London and Ottawa, had these boards where all the voters chose four controllers. This meant that mayors could not claim that they were the only ones  who spoke for all the people. Not only was it a useful nursery for the training of future mayors, it also gave challengers to the mayor more clout because they also had city-wide experience.
In our past, most Toronto mayors were controllers first.
It was such a good idea that, naturally, it got dumped.  The board was replaced with an executive chosen by the council. And now we have this modern concoction where the executive includes too many people, and probably their pets too, and they and the committee heads are ordained by the mayor.
In this present mess, Rob Ford is running around like a conservative dinosaur with its head chopped off by the lefties and mushy middle. Most of his good ideas about spending restraint spurt out like blood and then clot uselessly in the sand of the arena.
Consider the supposed super mayors since this mess began. There was Super Mouth, also known as the Mouth that Roared. Mel Lastman is still around, fortunately in his best role as an appliance salesman. Then there was David Miller, the darling of the left and the environmentalists who never saw a green idea that wasn't worth an extra million.
And now we have Ford, and his brother, Doug, who unfortunately doesn't  know enough to learn the history of an issue before he shoots his mouth off at the nearest mike.
There have been Toronto municipal leaders who have ruled through hard work and smarts, like Fred Gardiner and Paul Godfrey. There have been those who ruled by charm like David Crombie. And those who dominated through the force of words or speed of delivery, like Phil Givens and Allan Lamport. Bill Dennison, Nathan Phillips and Art Eggleton endured longer than all the other mayors just by knowing more about the nuts and bolts of City Hall than the councillors. And they were very very careful. Caution can be more important than charisma.
Ford has been given too much power by the system. So councillors rebel at such good ideas as more contracting out and eliminating the costly tyranny of the fair wage policy. He can't articulate well enough to sell like a Crombie, and just ends up as a target in the confusion.
 If there were four deputy mayors, elected to represent the west, north and east of the old suburbs, and one for the greedy downtown, and they along with the mayor served as the elite executive, council would be more efficient, and, oh yes, far more democratic than this supposed one-person rule that doesn't work.
What a shame that all the supposed experts who imposed strong mayors on Toronto aren't still around in active politics to have all the resulting nonsense dumped all over them. May they drown in the crap, along with our taxes.

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