Wednesday, January 23, 2013



"I told you so" must be one of the most galling retorts in an argument.
But I did.
I warned you and warned you (is that enough warnings) that strong mayors don't often make good government. I know that rooted deep in the consciousness of poli sci profs, media gurus, lazy reporters and a few activists is the burning desire to boil each government down to just one person.
This will cut down on their time and costs in lobbying, coverage and criticism because the targets will be just a few persons.
 So what if in Canada there are more than 300 MPPs, hundreds of MPPs, thousands of councillors and gawd knows how many senators and other important patronage post.
If federal, provincial and municipal governent can be reduced to Stephen Harper, the new feminine version of Dalton McGuinty and our very own Rusty Ford, then the watcher doesn't have to figure out the rest of the cast of thousands.
As I have written often, it's wonderful if you get a good leader and terrible if you don't.
I kept bringing that up in one of the key task forces studying overhauling the City Halls of Ontario. I kept repeating the folk wisdom that it's wise never to put all your eggs in one basket. You shouldn't do that with your investing, your future,  and certainly not your politics.
I am addicted to the TV reruns of The West Wing. Read any great political biography like Richard Gwyn's on Sir John A. Work near the top of the power structure of any large company. Wander the back corridors of power. And it as obvious as night follows day. There is no doubt that the leader is the first among equals but he or she holds power not by iron-fisted dictatorship but by keeping enough of the squabbling barons beneath them happy enough to support them so that they can  continue in power.
There are those like councillor Karen Stintz, who took speech lessons which didn't improve her delivery or her thought - or curb her ambition either - which blame City Council's woes on Rob Ford's lack of vision, or programs, or just fill in whatever they're complaining about the mayor these days.
Mike Wilson, with an honourable career behind him including finance minister and our ambassador to the U. S.,  argued with me in the old task force that a mayor should be given the tools to implement their promises during the election campaign.
Wilson is such a calm, decent thoughtful man that I felt when I argued  that I was throwing a rock through a stained glass window by bringing up the fact that corruption and stupidity are hardly unknowns on the mayoral scene in North America and some PR chump building a quiet fortune could do great damage to a civil service and the city even if they could be overruled ultimately by council.
We now have suffered through two "strong" mayors. David Miller used his powers to strut on a world stage while keeping them happy down on the City Hall farm by promoting every socialist solution that has ever suck the money out of taxpayers.
Then came Ford with all the right ideas  (if you are a compassionate conservative) but all the wrong moves in implementation.
It matters not to me whether you liked (or were flummoxed) by Miller , or a Ford Nation zealot willing to put up with clownish nonsense in exchange for real reductions in spending. The reason is that my argument applies to both. Both would have been better mayors and accomplished more if they were not "strong" mayors but the garden variety Canadian mayor which leads cities by honourable compromises and not dictatorship.
The crazier of the Miller Lite schemes,  and the obsession with heavy transit, both would have been sandpapered into better programs. Or they would have died if a consensus did not collect behind them.
There are 44 councillors and one mayor in Toronto. Shouldn't a mayor have to win 23 votes by the logic of the compromises that they broker?  Ensuring that the mayor fill all the major posts, from the chairs running the major committees to the TTC may appear to be a good idea. But that is just slammed on top of their huge PR advantage on every issue that many Torontonians don't have a clue about who does what and thinks the mayor really runs everything. Or should!
A good mayor is like a good symphony conductor, controlling everything about the product.  Success is not individual but a triumph for the orchestra, but only if the orchestra performs as well as the conductor. At Toronto City Hall you have a conductor who isn't doing that well but he certainly isn't rescued by all the malcontents who insist on playing other compositions on top of his score.
And so we all suffer, staggering from court case to crisis to cliff with the mayor and the verbal posturing from too many councillors who are anonymous even to their neighbours.
We have councillors who would be lucky to work on an assembly line who are overpaid to crank out an urban sausage where  the stuffing is petty patronage mixed with guesses and gushes and the skin is guaranteed to give you the runs when it comes to taxes.
This lot wants to rule for four years. We sure suffer in the name of democracy. Perhaps two years less a day would be better, and any resemblance to the usual jail term is intentional. Except the public is the ones who are punished.

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