To a political watcher, campaigns are the money shot. There is a built in, easy-to-follow narrative structure that, if played out right, still manages to deliver the occasional surprise or two. Ups, downs, spills, chills, spectacular flameouts, comebacks, the election trail has `em all. That shit practically writes itself.
Governance, on the other hand, is a grind. Fit only for nerds and wonks, with the nerdier and wonkier looking on in all its slow motion, day-to-day detail ingloriousness. Bylaws, capital versus operating budgets, infrastructure, official plans, I mean, seriously, how is it possible to make any of that interesting? No wonder few pay attention to what goes on at City Hall in between elections.
It’s all so boring!
You might think.
But if you spend some time around 100 Queen Street West, you might be pleasantly surprised. Indeed, you just might discover your inner nerd/wonk and realize why so many people are nerds and wonks. There is some compelling shit goes on behind those walls.
Take the Executive Committee, for example. I dropped in on its second meeting under Mayor Ford for a few hours yesterday to see exactly what it does and how it figures into the overall municipal government structure.
The Executive Committee is a relatively new body at City Hall, brought in with the City of Toronto Act in 2006. It ostensibly replaces the former Policy and Finance committee and is charged “to integrate City-wide strategic plans and priorities on behalf of [City] Council…” The vision thing, let’s call it, intended to look beyond ward-centric politics and at the whole of the city. (I know, I know. I can already hear you chuckling to yourself as you list off the members of Ford’s Executive Committee and their geographic representation.) It’s the successor in some ways to the old metro council in the pre-amalgamation days.
Membership of the Executive Committee includes the Deputy Mayor, the chairs of the seven standing committees and four at-large members appointed by the mayor and voted on by council. The mayor himself is not only a member of the Executive Committee but also presides over it as chair. So obviously this committee’s a biggie. The mayor’s unofficial cabinet, if you will, and while the objective of this committee may’ve originally been one of coordinating and focusing city council’s direction into a city-wide direction, it’s really the strong arm of the power a mayor wields. He picks the deputy mayor and 7 chairs which alone gives him an overwhelming majority on this committee and as long as the at-large councillors he nominates get through a vote at council — almost a certainty – the executive committee should be seen more as an agenda maker rather than an agenda facilitator.
It’s a They Choose, Council Decides sort of thing with the mayor and his team always playing offence and the rest of city council forced into the role of constantly pushing back. His Executive Committee gives a mayor the upper hand in situating himself and his agenda in the best possible position. Pro-active rather than reactive.
While the Mayor Ford Executive Committee is still in its infancy and wet behind the ears, a couple things jumped out at me during the scant time I’ve spent with them so far. Not having seen the previous ExComm in action, I don’t know if this is par for the course but no City-wide vision jumped out at me from this particular group of 13. (Thirteen? Really? That’s a little too Last Super-y if you ask me.) Unless, of course, we define ‘vision’ as meaning determined to account for every last dime that City Hall spends. I know, I know. That’s what the mayor campaigned on but isn’t that the job of another committee? Like Audit. Or Budget. Should the Executive Committee really be bogging itself down on whether the city should pay a particular councillor’s legal expenses? There are rules already in place for that, isn’t there?
Which brings me to a second point. Arriving in the middle of the debate on Councillor John Filion’s legal woes with the North York Symphony, I was struck by how many of the committee members seemed oblivious to proper protocol and procedures. And we’re not talking the newbie councillors in the room. Seasoned ones who’d been around the block a time or two.
Perhaps since many of them had been frozen out under the previous administration, they were still on a bit of a learning curve. Still. With all that time spent out of power, you’d think some time might’ve been spent brushing up on how the system functions.
Or maybe many of the Executive Committee members have a little too much inclination toward micro-managing, unable to see the proverbial forest for the trees. It’s hard to present a wider view when you’re busy demanding accountability down to the infinitesimally small detail. That is not to say City Hall shouldn’t be examining the fine print, making sure all the ‘t’s are crossed and ‘i’s dotted. But is that really the job of the mayor’s handpicked Executive Committee? The one charged with charting a course for Toronto to follow for the next 4 years?
If so, it’s going to be a torturous journey that, ultimately, won’t be going very far, very fast. After 7 years of so-called over-reach, City Hall looks to be entering an era of severe under-reach. A determined period of aggressive retraction and retrenchment. Soulless penny-pinching and corner cutting that will freeze up the hearts of even the nerdiest and wonkiest of us.
– nebbishly submitted by Cityslikr