Challenger Endorsements I

October 1, 2014

So, let me begin this, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first non-incumbent city councillor endorsement post, as a plea for ranked ballots by the time the next municipal campaign rolls around. (Looking good! Fingers still crossed.) rabitVoting should not be a tactical game, a compromise that rarely amounts to anything inspiring. Settling because, well, it could be a whole lot worse.

Take Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina, for instance. Of some 19 candidates or so, 5 are very interesting or, at least, palatable (says hello to Joe Cressy). It would be easy to list off your favourite 3 and be quite content with whatever the outcome instead of pitting them against one another in the hopes of one of them not winning. Or, whatever the mindset is in a first past the post mindset. It isn’t particularly positive.

That said. Here we are. In an imperfect system, we begin our imperfect endorsements.

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Ward 2 Etobicoke North

Back in early June, before any sort of Ford entered this race, we talked to Luke LaRoque. We liked Luke LaRoque. We still like Luke LaRoque. He’s chock full of good ideas about how to re-engage with residents of the ward. He’s got a real grasp of municipal politics. Luke LaRoque is an ideal candidate for city council.

There’s just one hitch.

The air’s been sucked out of the race by the Fords, in particular the outgoing mayor and former ward councillor, the ailing Rob Ford. What little space is left over has been occupied by Andray Domise. He’s got the media’s attention. He is articulate and passionate about the ward. He presents the perfect foil to the Fords’ dynastic pretensions.

Having not talked in detail with Mr. Domise, I can only assess his campaign based on reading through his website and his entries on WiTOpoli’s Position Primer. I was happy to see things being fleshed out yesterday, starting with his transit platform because until then I wasn’t seeing many robust ideas. There were good, positive initiatives framed in vague generalities and rhetorical platitudes. That seems to be changing.

Andray Domise does, however, speak up for those who haven’t had much of a voice at City Hall under the Ford regime, those they claim to have done more for than anybody else in the world.

In an ideal world, one where we have ranked ballots, at this point, Andray Domise would be my second choice for Ward 2 city councillor. That’s not 2014, unfortunately. We have to deal with the situation at hand.

Andray Domise looks like the sort of positive change that could actually defeat Rob Ford at the polls. For the city to turn the page on this turbulent past 4 years, Rob Ford needs to be defeated at the polls. For that reason alone, we endorse Andray Domise for Ward 2 Etobicoke North city councillor.

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Ward 17 Davenport

This one’s another toss up for me. It was in May when we sat down with Saeed Selvam and while he is a very impressive candidate by almost every other measure, he would still be our second choice in Ward 17. We endorse Alejandra Bravo.

Why?

Electability, in a word. She is well positioned to defeat a terrible incumbent. The stars finally seem aligned for her.

Ms. Bravo is seasoned and ready to assume her role as city councillor. She’s taken a run at this office a couple times before, in 2003 and 2006, and has a long history of community activism, most recently working on the Board of Health and with the Maytree Foundation. Mr. Selvam is a very, very worthy contender with a detailed platform that puts most other candidates to shame. Unfortunately, this just isn’t his time.

It sucks that this is how such important decisions get made. It feels cheap and shallow. But there it is. Politics in Toronto in 2014.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


A Term Limit On Dumb Ideas

February 12, 2013

You want to know how meritless the idea is of term limits on politicians? Both Mayor Rob Ford and I agree it’s without merit. timesupI’m not sure of the internal logic of that statement but, hey, if the Toronto Star’s Royson James can riff on the theme who am I to shy away?

“Public service is an honour,” Councillor Jaye Robinson says in Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article. “It is an opportunity to bring your knowledge and your experience to City Hall but it is not a career path. It is simply a calling, it is not a career.”

What is it about a life in politics that makes it so different from being a doctor or a bank manager? There’s a hint of Tea Party populism in the councillor’s statement, the dismissive view of career politicians. theresthedoorSomehow a politician’s ‘calling’ is finite — twelve years in her view – while a calling into the priesthood, say, is a lifelong pact.

It’s almost as if Councillor Robinson is suspicious of those who would make politics their life’s work. That no one could possibly want to make a career of public service in a capacity they excel at. You know what the problem with politics is? Politicians. Career politicians.

A call for term limits is the laziest of reactions to political disengagement and disenchantment. And that they’re being touted by two rookie councillors, Robinson and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who turfed incumbents in 2010 to get into office is even more puzzling. Their new blood and ideas can now infuse the politics of the city, to paraphrase Royson James, because of successful election campaigns.

Yes, there are huge advantages to being an incumbent, mostly name recognition that’s especially pronounced at the municipal level but for reasons beyond James’ overly simplistic office budget “re-election slush fund” thinking. I’m of the belief that being an incumbent at the municipal level is so formidable because, until recently at least, voters didn’t pay that much attention to local politics between election cycles. It’s the most junior level of government after all, concerned mostly with garbage pick-up and neighbourhood stop signs. publicparticipationSo remembering who their councillor’s name was the biggest effort most people put into it.

But I think there’s much better ways to effectively engage the public. Directly involving a community in the decision making process is one. That may mean using the easily hated councillor office budgets to host town halls and other types of meetings we’ve seen crop up recently like on the casino issue or transit funding. Let’s promote a more participatory budget approach that elicits public input before most of the decisions have been made rather than just in reaction to them.

We could also invigorate our electoral system to make it both more inclusive and more competitive. In the Torontoist yesterday, Desmond Cole made the case for extending municipal voting rights to permanent residents. “In 2006,” Cole writes, “Ryerson municipal affairs expert Myer Siemiatycki estimated that at least 250,000 Toronto residents, or 16 per cent of the city’s population, could not vote in municipal elections because they were not citizens.” stuntA quarter-million currently disenfranchised residents suddenly eligible to vote would most certainly shake up our local democracy.

How about modifying the way we vote? For years Dave Meslin and the folks at RaBIT have pushed the idea of alternative voting as a counter to the power of incumbency. A quick glance at the 2010 election results shows that a ranked ballot might’ve led to the defeat of 10 incumbent councillors.

This isn’t an argument suggesting that governance here in Toronto has no need of modernizing or recalibration. Imagine my smirk after reading the deputy mayor’s claim, “We’ve had people (at City Hall) that should never have been there for a day that have been there for years.” Talk about your kettle throwing the pot around in a glass house. But if it takes term limits in order to rid the place of do-nothing councillors like our budget chief, speaker or deputy mayor, well, we have bigger fish to fry. Term limits smack of cheap fixes and political stunts. Toss away ideas that make a lot of noise but deliver very little meaningful change.

time sensitively submitted by Cityslikr


Be Bold

July 5, 2012

It’s the only way to counteract the lethargy of ill-governance.

Boldness is a form of action not reaction. It steps into the void created by a lockdown of thought, a failure of nerve, an acceptance of some misbegotten notion of inevitability. Boldness requires courage.

What we are currently experiencing is the exact opposite. Ours is the Age of the Great Flinching. We flinch in the face of economic uncertainty. We flinch in the face of climate upheaval. We flinch in the face of societal reconfiguration.

We flinch, retreat, retract and call it conservatism.

I do not think that word means what self-described conservatives think it means.

It’s all a regression to the meanness of a previous era. Everyone for themselves. Winner takes all, losers work retail.

There are days when I’m unsure how we as a species ever managed to climb out of the primordial goo and start to evolve. It’s just so hard. I’m good here. Think I’ll just stay put where I am.

The path of least resistance.

So I think it hardly surprising that such an outpouring of interest was sparked by the announcement of One City last week. Hey! Look at that, would you? An idea, many ideas. A forward looking plan that poses substantial questions and tough challenges. Something we can actually sink our teeth into.

Now, much has been made of the plan already so I won’t add to the discussion except to say that, if nothing else, the proposal and the negative reaction to it on the part of the province and from some on council simply made them look tired and unwilling. Disinterested spouses at the tail end of a lifeless marriage. Don’t kick up a fuss. Think of the children.

But I do hope that unenthusiastic reaction does not dissuade other councillors who find themselves in similar positions of power at City Hall – not just in terms of committee chairs but with powers of persuasion – from observing what the TTC Chair and Vice-Chair and councillors Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc actually accomplished. They activated an agenda. Rather than stand pat and let the chips fall where they may, a larger discussion was initiated. If you really want to talk transit, let’s really talk about transit.

I’m looking at the most unlikely of sources to take a flyer on an issue and make a big splash. Ward 43-Scarborough East councillor and Government Management Committee chair, Paul Ainslie. [Phee-ew. I was worried you were talking about Councillor Frank Di Giorgio for a minute there—ed.] Your time is now. Carpe diem.

Councillor Ainslie, you say? I’m not even sure I know which one he is. [Almost always but never quite ever holding the mayor’s hand—ed.] Are you sure you got the right councillor?

As chair of the Government Management Committee, Councillor Ainslie has the opportunity to bring about some important voting, ballot and citizen participatory reforms. He’s been a big supporter of Dave Meslin’s 4th Wall Project which is on display in the lobby of City Hall all next week with an opening reception at 6:30 Monday night. (July 9th). Earlier this year, Councillor Ainslie introduced numerous motions – ranging from using ranked ballots to using video for deputations – for further study.

But as anyone who’s followed voting reform initiatives knows, they can die a frustrating, quiet death by neglect. Those who’ve been elected to office in the traditional manner aren’t always prone to change a system that’s worked for them. Entrenched status quo is not the friend of change in any fashion.

In fact two reform motions actually passed city council unanimously recently, one to establish a working group to study the proposals and another calling for a staff report on a ranked ballot initiative. Yet somehow even these two innocuous seeming items never made it out of the meeting intact and were sent back to staff until October. The slow grinding wheel of change.

The thing is, though, civic awareness and participation has spiked here in Toronto during Mayor Ford’s term. People not only want to be engaged, they have realized the absolute necessity of getting engaged. While it may not be in the best interest of some politicians to have an increase in voter activism, those looking beyond their own self-interest know that it would be in the best interest of our local democracy.

So now, Councillor Paul Ainslie, it’s your time to shine. Use this summer interregnum and the mayor’s disinclination to actually lead as an opportunity to make the case for voter reform. Pull a Stintz, as they say, and step outside the mayor’s circle, that ever decreasing sphere of influence. You’ll have a wide and receptive audience. People want what you have to offer.

Be bold.

It’s this season’s colour.

humidly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


There’s A Better (Ballots) Way

November 24, 2011

I am not prone to giddy bursts of optimism. Like most of us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, my predilection tends more in the other direction. Bouts of downward fear and loathing that intersect dangerously often with paranoia. The office windows are almost always open to air out the toxic atmosphere.

But put me in a room full of enthusiastic voting reformers and I am over the moon, Up With People, Schweppes bubbly effervescent, that veritable ant that could move the rubber tree plant. So it was last night at the Oakham House on the Ryerson University campus for a Better Ballots get together, Thinking Ahead to 2014: Taking A Critical Look at Local Elections. Colour me activist. I’m thinking, teal-ish?

In short, this: Local Choice.

I am a firm believer that the desultory relationship we have with our politics and politicians boils down to one key element. It’s how we vote (or don’t for far too many of us) and elect our representatives. At the federal and provincial levels, the whopping majority of us don’t wind up voting for the ultimate winners. Right now in Ottawa, the party which less than 4 in 10 voters voted for now controls more than 50% of the seats in parliament. Each and every day they enact, pronounce and dictate in matters that a solid majority of Canadians don’t agree with.

That’s not a partisan statement. Here in Ontario, there hasn’t been a provincial government in power that more than 50% of voters cast their ballots for in nearly 75 years! How can that not sour our relationship with those who govern us? Don’t look at me. I didn’t vote for the guy. Yes, I said ‘guy’. Why? Because in our first past the post system, the status quo is usually maintained. Thus, the continued preponderance of doughy white guys in the corridors of power.

The list is long of ideas to reinvigorate our political process. In townhall gatherings last year, the Better Ballots folks winnowed down suggestions to 14 (pages 18 and 19), ranging from moving election days to weekends, introducing phone and internet voting, municipal parties and term limits. At last night’s session, the emphasis was on 4 areas: ballot or voting structure, extending voting rights to permanent residents, lowering the voting age to 16 and campaign financing.

My particular bailiwick happens to be how we vote. Over the next little while, I’ll be regularly writing on the subject of various voting systems, trying to figure out which one would fit best at our municipal level. The overarching theme will be that the first past the post system has got to go.

Based on the strength of last night’s presentations, lowering the voting age is also very intriguing. William Molls at Voteto16.ca made a highly entertaining and persuasive case. As did Leonardo Zúñiga of iVote Toronto in talking about extending voting rights to permanent residents. Both ideas couldn’t but help to reinvigorate the political process. The more people don’t have the right vote, the less politicians will feel the need to reach out to them and the less reason these people will be have to actively participate.

Bob MacDermid had the rather unfortunate task of pointing out our continued problems with campaign financing that inevitably favours those with money and those with influential friends with money. Vote Toronto does yeomen’s duty trying to keep on top of this byzantine business but it is a multi-headed monster that constantly shifts and morphs, always to the advantage of those with deep pockets. It seems that vested interests just don’t think that there should be a level playing field in our elections.

Which also explains why it is so hard to change what is so obviously broken. The status quo is a stubborn beast, made even more stolid by those who’ve expertly learned how to work the ref in the game. Any sort of change threatens the standard operating procedure. It is fought tooth and nail.

That’s why more of us have to get involved. Some of these proposals Toronto can enact on its own but others need a provincial go-ahead to happen. That’s two levels of politicians who have won under the current system, so may not be overly enthusiastic to altering something they’ve already mastered. (Hat tip should go out to councillors Shelley Carroll, Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam for coming out to the event and showing their support.) Much pressure must be brought to bear to get this conversation going and put the wind in change’s sails.

It is change that is tantalizingly close and many of these ideas are easily implemented if a critical mass can be achieved. Grab an issue that catches your fancy. Talk to those already involved, see what you can do to chip in and help. If you’re like a majority of Canadians and Torontonians and don’t like the way the game of politics is played, demand change. If we change how we elect our politicians, we may start changing who we elect, and if we change who we elect, there’s every reason to expect we’ll change how politics is played. For the better.

activistly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Our Election Issue

November 17, 2011

Mandate.

I have been given a mandate by the people.

Those are the words inevitably spoken by a politician just freshly elected (or re-elected) to office. The battle has been won. The prize awarded. Absolute rule.

That’s our first past the post voting system for you. Unless held in check by a minority situation in a parliamentary setup, those winning an election govern relatively unhindered by opposition for their entire term. This, regardless of how many voters actually voted for them. Look at Ottawa currently. The newly installed Conservative majority government has almost 54% of the seats in the House of Commons having only secured 39.6% of the popular vote. Absolute rule with fewer than 4 in 10 voters voting for them.

That’s a mandate.

And it’s not at all unusual. In fact, it’s commonplace. The unexception that proves the rule. The last time more than half of Canadians voted for a federal government was 1984 at exactly 50%. Before that, 1958. In Ontario, 1937! That’s right. For all those who remember the vaunted Big Blue Machine that ruled the roost in this province from 1943 until 1985, never once did it secure an absolute majority of voters. Not once.

The lack of true democratic representation is as equally skewed at the municipal level. Last October, Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto with just over 47% of the popular vote. Declaring a mandate, he single-handedly scrapped and established transit plan. Just like that. No vote. Just a so-called mandate from less than half the voters who cast ballots.

Even more disturbing, of our 44 councillors nearly half of them, 20 to be exact, were swept into office with less than 50% of the popular vote. Five of those tallied less than 40%. Four less than 30%. One under 20%.

Think about that for a second. A city councillor makes decisions on behalf of his constituents after 4 out of 5 didn’t vote for him. Again, think about that. Line up every voter in that ward and start throwing rocks at them. For every 5 rocks you throw, less than one will hit a voter who voted for their current councillor.

And that’s not all, folks.

Of those 20 councillors elected with less than 50% of the popular vote, 10 were incumbents. That means that even after having been in office, garnering the kind of publicity that brings –at the municipal level, name recognition counts a lot — they could not convince more than half of voters in their ward to vote for them. They didn’t need to. It doesn’t work that way.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, Team Ford’s self-proclaimed QB, he of the famous thumb, was returned to city hall by 43.8% of Ward 7 voters. He’s been a councillor since 1995 and was an MPP for five years before that. Before deciding to seek re-election, Councillor Mammoliti ran a very high profile campaign for mayor of the city. With all this, he still couldn’t convince more than half of the voters in his ward to vote for him. But there he now sits beside the mayor, casting votes along with him 100% of the time.

How about John Parker, councillor for Ward 26, in no way a Rob Ford stronghold in last year’s election. Another former MPP and one term incumbent failed to muster even 1 out of 3 votes last fall. Yet, now he’s deputy speaker at council and bona fide member of Team Ford. How could that be considered fair and equal representation?

Now, this is not a partisan issue. The skewed electoral situation breaks almost evenly on both sides of the electoral spectrum although, I should point out that of the Team Ford members who have voted with the mayor more than 2/3s of the time, eleven of those councillors came to office with less than 50% of the popular vote. It suggests to me that the views, opinions and attitudes of the citizens of Toronto are not truly reflected in the direction of how the city’s headed right now.

So it’s little wonder so many of us are ultimately disengaged with the political process. Of all the numbers being bandied about here, the one that is truly the most dispiriting is this one: 53.2%. Barely half of eligible voters even bothered to vote last year and that was a significant jump from previous elections that had dipped under 40%.

We have tuned out and this very well may be one of the reasons. Our votes simply don’t add up. Too many of us cast ballots that ultimately are meaningless. A majority of voters never end up voting for those who govern us. So, of course there’s a disconnect. Why bother voting when chances are very likely that it won’t end up mattering because the other candidate will end up winning.

Not only that but our first past the post electoral system (Is that from a horse racing term? Odd because in horseracing, those betting on the second and third place finishers are rewarded too. Win, place and show.) warps campaigns into also suppressing voter turnout. Negative, nasty races are the norm as cutting your opponents down to size works to your benefit. Less votes for them can work out for you. Assholish behaviour prevails but democracy is dirtied and diminished.

There is a better way to do this.

And I have been anointed by the powers that be here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke to tell you how. Over the next few months, I will be posting pieces on how we can change this. Don’t let anyone tell you we’ve been throw this before and it’s all too complicated. It isn’t. Do not give in to the ease of our status quo bias. There is a better way.

Lesson # 1: RaBIT, Better Ballots, Fair Vote. Check them out, brush up a little. We’ll talk.

Better, fairer, more representative elections are possible. They are coming. Stay tuned.

goadingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Voting Reform’s Easy. You’re Just Lazy.

March 17, 2011

As the newly self-appointed electoral reform voice here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, my first task is to do the exact opposite of what advocacy advocates would advise doing. I am going to attack and deride the very people whose opinion I plan to sway. I fully expect the powers that be over at RaBIT and Fair Vote Canada to be in contact with me soon asking my assistance in helping plan strategy and pen informational publications.

You see, to my mind the biggest obstacle to having a serious debate about the need to change the way we elect our governments is the prevailing disinterest in the subject on the part of the general public. Lulled into a disquieted slumber by those who abhor change or who benefit greatly from the status quo, too many voters wave off any discussion about voting reform as just more politics. Politics, politics, politics.

It’s this apathetic indifference that supporters of our current, first-past-the-post, winner-take-all system exploit. Their main argument in favour of how we do things now revolves around stability. Our system tends to elect majority governments despite rarely an absolute majority actually voting for the winning party and with majority governments comes 4 years or so of one-party, stable governing. Go back to sleep, public. We’ll wake you again in 4 years or so.

Without stable majority governments, the argument goes, we exist on the brink of chaos. Look at Italy! And disregard all the other European countries that have moved on to various forms of real proportional representation. Or look at our own situation in Canada for the past 7 years. Gridlock rife with more partisan bickering than actual governance. Never mind that it’s really the lure of an oh-so-close majority situation that drives the Harper Government. (Huh. My spell check just changed ‘Canadian’ Government to ‘Harper’ Government. Strange). That counter-intuitively undemocratic 40% popular vote bar that would elect them over 50% of the seats and 100% control of the government.

Screw democracy. We need stability.

So much is made of minority governments leading to an increased number of unnecessary elections. How, without the constancy of majority governments, we’ll be dragged incessantly to the polls, against our collective wills, like the Chinese Communist Long March of 1934/5, through snow (bad), the heat of summer (bad), the Christmas season (really, really bad). Spring’s OK but can we go later when the weather’s better but not too good because the bright sunshine and blue skies absolutely drains me of my will to vote.

Since when have elections become such an onerous burden to bear? What exactly is it about them that makes the public feel so put upon? Is it because we have to actually pay attention to what’s going on, to what our politicians are saying? We don’t. Nobody forces us to participate. Rarely does political coverage preempt Canadian Idol or Celebrity Apprentice. We can all go about our regular routines, paying absolutely no attention to that stranger at our door, offering more junk mail and wanting to know what we think about the long form census.

To walk amongst the tall reeds of cliché for a moment, because that’s what one does with clichés, walk amongst the tall reeds, carrying stones in your coat pocket, people are dying out there for the right of self-determination that comes with free and fair elections. Not figuratively dying. Literally dying. And we get our noses out of joint if we have to go vote more than every other year? OMG, if a federal election gets called in the spring that means Ontarians will be going to the polls 3 times in one year by the time the scheduled provincial election is done in October! The horror! The horror!

Why do you always end up making me yell at you, people? I just wanted to talk about electoral reform, is all. There is a better way to elect our representatives at every level of government.

Our current method is not only not working, it is robbing us of true democracy where a minority of voters regularly elects a majority government that represents far less than half of us. No wonder so many of us are jaded with politics, apathetic and figure our votes don’t matter. More often than not, they don’t. So why bother? Why bother even following along?

So the system itself makes us sick of it.

None of it, however, is set in stone. Nowhere is it written that we have to vote like we do, conduct elections like we do. Plenty of countries and jurisdictions have moved on to other, fairer ways of electing their representatives and the sky hasn’t fallen or the earth stopped revolving around the sun. Our very leaders who ask us to cast ballots for them in a fundamentally anti-democratic fashion in all likelihood assumed the top job of their respective parties through alternative voting or ranked ballots. There is a disconnect there that should disturb us all.

But those already in power are not going to step up and start the discussion about electoral reform. Reform that would very possibly divest them of the absolutism that they have grown to expect and demand. We have to get the ball rolling. We have to get excited again (or maybe for the first time) about politics and the opportunity to make real, positive change.

We have to stop being idle and pointing at others for the reason we aren’t engaged. It’s a cop out and a drag, man. Wake up, sleepyheads. Let’s take our politics back.

rousingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Back In The Game

March 13, 2011

Not all that long ago, as recently as the waning days of 2009 in fact, I was happily living my life as a self-identified political apathete. Cocooned in a warm, fuzzy coating of ‘They’re all the same’, I voted when I had to and with very little enthusiasm. Calling myself a Red Tory to anyone who asked, I failed to recognize I’d become a species near the brink of extinction and that almost the entire right side of the spectrum had been slowly consumed by what can only be described as a brand of radical conservatism.

Then I went and did something stupid like sign on to All Fired Up in the Big Smoke and become involved, active and aware during last year’s municipal election campaign. I honestly believed I could bring a dispassionate, rational voice to the site but as things progressed… or maybe that should be, regressed… out on the hustings, it was a stance that became more and more untenable. Disregard grew into disbelief that morphed into shock, anger, fear until, ultimately, at the race’s conclusion, a little bit of my soul died.

“This is why you shouldn’t put yourself out there,” I thought to myself afterwards. “It can all turn out so horribly, horribly badly… bad? Badly?” Don’t like the sound of ‘badly’ in that context but ‘bad’ is in all likelihood incorrect.

So, I fled. In hopes of rediscovering my old self. My old, disinterested, apolitical self.

I took to the seas. I took to the bottle. I took to my knees to pray that it had all just been one bad dream. All to no avail. I was hooked. I’d become a junkie of the worst kind. The political kind. I can’t quit you, Toronto municipal politics!

Once having acknowledged and accepted that fact, I found myself face-to-face with a dilemma. By the time I turned my attention back to City Hall, it had become something of a partisan hellhole. Serious battle lines drawn. Whatever divisions that had manifested themselves during the election were, by the time Mayor Ford was sworn into office, deep to the point of moat-like. While my colleague Cityslikr seems to be quite content wallowing in such a nest of vipers, the thought of joining him struck me as wholly unappealing. Surely there was a way to make a more positive, satisfying contribution.

And there is. Voting/electoral/ballot reform.

If you hadn’t noticed, things are horribly out of whack on that front here in Toronto. In a couple great posts back in January, John Michael McGrath dug into the grisly details of highly disproportionate wards where some councillors are buried deep in constituent work while others have a lighter workload and have additional time to offer help, sometimes unasked, in other wards and do regular radio spots. It is a situation that seriously undermines the notion of one person, one vote that we like to believe sits at the heart of our democratic system.

While adjusting boundaries to more equitably distribute numbers throughout the city’s wards, there’s also a deeper fundamental change that needs exploring. Since amalgamation and the elimination of Metro Council, Toronto has suffered under a lack of city wide vision. Only the mayor is elected by voters throughout the city. So he (and it’s only been a ‘he’ since we became the megacity) sets an agenda for the entire city and must contend with the views and opinions of 44 councillors whose priorities for their constituents oftentimes sit in direct opposition to a broader view. For example? We all know that increased density is a must for our future well being. Yet where do we start developing? As the battle at Lawrence Heights shows, communities may see the need for more density but they don’t necessarily want it near them.

At the same time, there’s also a growing demand for a strengthening of local input into decisions being made at City Hall. This suggests we should look at giving more powers to our community councils. Not only would this foster an increase in citizen participation but it would also relieve the burden on city council to spend their time debating and voting on such hyper-local issues as extending liquor license hours to Paddy McMuldoon’s Irish Emporium Pub for St. Patrick’s Day or if a tree needs to be cut down in Ward Wherever.

All of which points to not only such electoral reform issues as at-large councilors and the like but actual improvements in voting. Yes, I’m talking about the bogeyman of proportional representation and changing how we cast our ballots. It is long overdue and we need to stop ignoring the claims of over-complexity that inevitably arise from the political class that has benefited from our current, first-past-the-post system. Arguably, this is something we could do most easily at the municipal level, owing to the fact we are officially party-less. Time is of the essence and new rules have to be in place soon in order that the can come into effect for the next municipal election.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. Not only do reform-minded people have to contend with entrenched status quoers but there is a divide within the ranks of the reform movement itself. It’s a clash of ideas that was captured nicely last month by Jake Tobin Garrett over at Spacing and, unfortunately one that can be used by opponents to argue for doing nothing.

But that really isn’t an option. Voters continue to be disengaged from the process and campaigns at every level are rarely fought over issues. The first-past-the-post system seems to encourage negative, I’m-not-as-bad-as-the-other-guys races and a clawing for a mere simple majority usually leads to more voters casting ballots against the ultimate winner. And as we can see by watching recent events in Ottawa as well as City Hall here in Toronto, negative campaigning moves directly into negative governing.

So I begin the initial steps of understanding alternative ways of electing our representatives. What I do feel strongly about right now is that Mayor Ford’s campaign pledge of cutting council in half is a non-starter. It will only increase our democratic deficit and his argument that since we only have 22 MPs and MPPs we only need 22 councillors displays a monumental ignorance about the difference between the services delivered to the public by their councillors and by their representatives at Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill.

Secondly, what we need to demand right now is the ability to elect our municipal officials by a ranked ballot. For a primer on what exactly that is, I highly encourage you to read over what the folks have to say over at RaBIT. I know this wades right into the controversy over alternative voting versus true proportional representation (about which you should also read at Fair Vote Canada) but 21 of the 45 people making decisions for us at City Hall were elected with less than an absolute majority of votes. In fact, 5 of our councillors had less than a third of their ward voters actually cast a ballot for them. So we have the ludicrous scenario of someone like Councillor James Pasternak standing up at council, claiming to speak for his ward when, in fact, less than 1 in 5 of the voters in Ward 10 who chose to cast a ballot, voted for Mr. Pasternak.

That ain’t democracy, folks. It’s time for a real change. And that’s what I intend to dedicate my time to, back here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

submitted by Urban Sophisticat


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