Less Politics. More Thoughtful Discourse, Please.

September 12, 2010

Tired and blue about the mayoral race, and its paucity of thoughtful, critical ideas sacrificed at the altar of nonsensical ranting and empty rhetoric posturing?

May we suggest taking a breather at an event sponsored by the Cities Centre research institute at the University of Toronto or the Canadian Urban Institute? After successfully managing to pry the $40 registration fee from Mr. Boss Man at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke as a genuine business expense, I attended last Thursday morning’s Breakfast Roundtable entitled, On the Outside Looking In? The Many Mysteries of Governance in the City of Toronto at the august Arts and Letters Club. Ah, the sweet sounds of apolitical, rational discourse!

That is, after the bland stylings from the morning’s moderation of one Art Eggleton, Toronto’s longest serving and quite possibly most unexceptional mayor. (Is there a link between those two details, we wonder.) I wasn’t entirely certain what the event’s organizers thought Mr. Eggleton would bring to the proceedings aside from a world of knowledge about how to keep reform at bay which seemed to be the antithesis of what they were hoping to accomplish but fortunately, like most discussions he contributes to, much of his opening remarks were quickly forgotten.

The meat of the presentation concerned itself with the nature of governance at the municipal level here in Toronto. In 3 short talks delivered by professors Richard Stren and Frank Cunningham along with the chairman of the Maytree Foundation and author of the book Urban Nation, Alan Broadbent, the main thrust was that the city’s governing structure was big, messy, multifaceted and still very much a work in progress. “A complex behemoth,” as Prof. Stren called it.

Without going into the details (but certainly encouraging people to take a moment to read a basic summary of what was under discussion here, suffice it to say there are no easy solutions to the difficulties Toronto faces and anyone on the campaign trail telling you otherwise is either lying or completely misinformed and should be summarily ignored as a viable candidate. None more than those promising to cut council members by half. The last thing a city of this size and multifaceted nature needs is less political representation. A councillor’s job is so vastly different than that of what MPs and MPPs do that equating the three levels of government reveals nothing more than an absolute ignorance of how things work at the municipal level that is so staggeringly monumental that it should automatically disqualify those espousing the idea.

At the discussion on Thursday, there was no panic about the state of the city. No dire predictions of its immediate collapse into Mad Max style chaos that we hear much of from our mayoral candidates. Just reasonable talk about the problems we face and possible solutions to pursued. Maybe if there were more of that during this campaign and less unsubstantiated, purely politically motivated vitriol, the public might be more positively engaged with their local politics, and looking forward to electing a new mayor instead getting ready to hold their collective noses and vote for the least worst candidate.

No great city gets built in that manner.

thoughtfully submitted by Acaphlegmic


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