One Councillor And One Mayor Are Not Enough

Early on at last night’s Ward 19 council debate, it became clear to me that Toronto’s post-amalgamated governance structure is woefully lacking in delivering us the representation we need and deserve. As the questions piled up (both prepared from business and residents association as well as the audience’s more free form stylings), most expressed concerns about purely local issues. The moratorium on restaurants and bars on Ossington Street. Park upkeep and organization at Trinity-Bellwoods. Traffic congestion in Liberty Village and parking at the CNE.

Undoubtedly, some of these have city wide implications concerning matters like density and park management, but it still felt awfully parochial, if I can use that term non-derogatorily. The debate was held in a parish, after all. So why not `parochial’?

Local matters should be the main duty of those seeking a council seat. To look out for the interests of their constituents. Councillors represent the peoples’ voice at City Hall.

But this leaves the city wide view in the hands of the mayor and the mayor only. Councillors sit on various committees that oversee municipal aspects for the entire city like transit, police, planning but they remain councillors first and committee members second. Leaving us with one voice in the face of 44 who must straddle the line between city building and ward defending. Sometimes these two roles not only don’t jibe but are in direct opposition to one another.

Which may explain some of the palpable anger and discontent at the debate last night toward outgoing councillor for ward 19 and mayoral candidate, Joe Pantalone. He was accused by many of non-responsiveness and unilateral decision making. Perhaps this was always the case but I can’t help thinking that as a high ranking official in the Miller administration, Pantalone stopped looking out for the concerns of those who had elected him while he was concentrating on the bigger picture of Toronto as a whole.

A city of this size and diversity cannot be properly represented by one official and a handful of councillors who are secure enough in their ward positions that they can attend to wider city matters. We need another municipal level of government (yes, I said another level of government) whose sole purpose is for the greater good of the city and to coordinate its place within the entire GTA region. A Board of Control, say, elected from the ashes of the former cities of Toronto, York, East York, North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke. Call it, oh I don’t know, Metro Council. But this thing with a mayor and 44 fiefdoms doesn’t really seem to be fully functioning.

It’s a dilemma I’ll be facing when it comes to deciding where to cast my vote for ward 19 councillor. On one hand, there’s Karen Sun. From her, I get a sense of someone looking to contribute to the building of a better city. That’s not to say she won’t stand tall for the people of this ward. She just seems to have a bigger vision. One that goes beyond the Trinity Spadina border.

On the other hand, there’s David Footman. Having just encountered him last night, it would be presumptuous of me to make sweeping generalizations about his campaign but what I saw at the debate (and read from his campaign literature) is a bull terrier in defense of ward 19 and the people living here. Mr. Footman very likely possesses thoughts about the city in its entirety. Upon first impression however, his strengths seemed to be very much local, on the ground.

Toronto voters should not have to make such a choice. Or rather, there should be a second option. To vote for someone like David Footman whose primary job is to look after our neighbourhood needs. And to vote for Karen Sun as our representative for matters encompassing the entire city. Such a system was in place back before we were all one city. Nothing about amalgamation has ameliorated the situation to the point where we don’t require a similar set up again.

undecidedly submitted by Cityslikr

6 Responses to One Councillor And One Mayor Are Not Enough

  1. John says:

    Cityslikr, Pants was not neglectful towards Ward 19 as his attention broadened to city-wide affairs. He controlled his ward with an iron fist. I have heard experienced councillors explaining privately why they could not implement those city-wide priorities you mention because they would affect Joe’s territory, and that was evidently a real no-no. Rick Salutin once described him as “a one-man lynch mob, with a whiff of Stalinism in the sense of harsh, mindless wielding of power in the name of left-wing values.” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/laugh-a-little-toronto/article1308818/) Ouch!

    The new and vastly improved Joe Pantalone currently running for mayor is someone I could vote for, but there is a good reason why so many Ward 19 voters booed his name last night. And that was a LEFTY crowd.

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear John,

      (Hee, hee. It’s the first time we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke actually got to write that salutation)

      Thank you for your perspective. Had heard rumblings of this dictatorial streak in Mr. Pantalone.

      One question, though.

      If it was a question of ‘harsh, mindless wielding of power in the name of left-wing values’ as you say, why would a left leaning crowd boo him? For the tactics more than the result?

      Just wondering.

  2. brian moffatt says:

    just let rob ford run everything.

    srsly the answer is in what we had. agreed. one local council, one metro council.

    still trying to see any upside to amalgamation.

  3. John says:

    I guess it depends on your definition of left wing values. The folks most exasperated with Pants in Ward 19 are in fact the lefties. For example, as recently as two years ago, Pants was fighting Gord Perks and Adam Vaughan to save the Front Street Extension. You can ask John Barber about Pants’ motives in that fight (assuming Goldsbie is wrong, and you yourself are NOT John Barber). Then there was the Billboard Tax for arts funding, the vote for which Pants decided to skip, perhaps to avoid upsetting those same interests. Then there is the West End Rail Path plan, which curiously stops dead the moment it hits Ward 19. There’s more, but you get the idea.

    Pants may be loved by all the old-school Dipper establishment, but to any activist younger than 40 who has experienced Pants close up, he has shown all fresh progressive thinking we would expect of someone who was first elected two years before Tom Jakobek.

    Perhaps the mayoral campaign has given Pants some fresh perspective, because he sure talks like someone I would vote for. However, I can’t help wondering how we would feel about Smitherman if John Laschinger was running HIS campaign instead.

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear John,

      (Hee, hee. Laughed just a little bit less there. Should disappear entirely by next exchange.)

      While we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke continue to be flattered by the Are You John Barber? mystery, rest assured that we are not. Once you spend a little time with us, the egregious holes in our knowledge about the municipal political scene here in Toronto will fully disabuse you of that question. Trust us.

      But the one thing we are aware of that will keep us very, very leery of George Smitherman is the backroom company he keeps. Correct us if we’re wrong but isn’t one of his big fundraisers the one and only Ralph Lean? He who had a falling out with Miller over the selling off of city assets? Where exactly is George going to fall down on the issue if he wins?

      • John says:

        I think if activists are freaked out by the election, the real answer is to organize, join networks, and be prepared to get in the face of whoever becomes mayor (or councillor). And don’t let anyone tell you you’re powerless!

        Every time I get depressed about the mayoral situation, I pull up Spacing.ca, illegalsigns.ca, the Cyclists Union website, Goldsbie’s twit feed, or even this crappy blog called All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Five years ago, did anyone think you could spook councillors into approving a new tax on billboards, and the media would report the new tax as a Good News Story? Hell, there’s so much awesome stuff that happens in this city independently of City Hall, I am pretty sure not even Ford can completely screw things up.

        Politicians have always needed adult supervision. Now we actually have the power to provide it.

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