Straddlin’ The Chasm of Centre

March 2, 2011

Of the 14 new council faces that showed up at City Hall last fall, I think it’s safe to say that Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow has proven so far to be the breakout star. Oh, I’m sorry. Of the non-councillor/co-mayor new councillors I should’ve said, Josh Matlow has proven so far to be the breakout star.

He is already a presence at council meetings, speaking often and, if not eloquently at least pleasingly, seldom referring to notes or talking points. He’s civilly sparred with council speaker (and mayor protector) Frances Nunziata and more than ably stood his ground during budget debate last week when Councillor Ford took to his haunches to blast away spurious accusations at the city’s Ombudsman’s office who Matlow had the temerity of putting forth a motion to give more funding for. Of course, Councillor Matlow was probably already not in the good graces of the mayor’s company, having publicly told the story of his first meeting with the mayor’s team who had clearly mistaken him for the other new Josh on council.

As one of the 4 newbies (that will be the last time I use that descriptor) on council who are thought of as swing votes, moderates you might say, Matlow gives every appearance of being less Ford friendly, let’s call it. Yet based purely on their respective voting records so far, there is nothing to warrant such distinction. There hasn’t been that much daylight between the votes Matlow’s cast and those of Ana Bailão, Josh Colle or Mary-Margaret McMahon. Could it be Councillor Matlow’s talking out of the left side of his mouth but voting from the right?

Councillor Matlow voted in favour of getting rid of the Vehicle Registration Tax. He voted to ask the province to make the TTC an essential service. On the operating budget, he varied little on the big ticket items with mayor. I mean, he was part of the gang who ensured the closing of the Urban Affairs library. He’s been front and centre with the mayor’s team expressing his outrage at the goings-on with the TCHC and demanding heads roll.

Is that the definition of a centrist at City Hall in the Mayor Ford era?

Yet he seems genuinely concerned about revenue sources for the city and his background doesn’t scream reactionary. Maybe it’s something about politicians from his neck of the woods. His predecessor, Michael Walker, was also what one might refer to as an ideological conundrum, regularly annoying those on both sides of the political spectrum. Nobody puts Ward 22 in a corner!

The problem with being all maverick-y like that is it can often leave you on the outside looking in, as Michael Walker might attest to. Both camps see you as little more than a gadfly, popping in and out with your support and not to be counted on when the chips are down. Unless you’re able to forge an actual middle ground consensus that can win votes, you wind up being little more than ward-centric councillor that puts the interests of his constituents above all else.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As it is currently structured, our municipal government doesn’t promote city wide thinking from its councillors. There are those, however, who can forge a wider identity. Our current mayor certainly did as did Mayor Miller before him. Sitting councillor Adam Vaughan is one. So is Shelley Carroll.

While it’s very early, I see those same skills in Councillor Josh Matlow and am willing to overlook his tendency to cater to the right wing, anti-government blood lust that is in the air currently. It is the way the wind is blowing. But he does have to start putting some of his more progressive ideals into action soon lest he start seeming like a crass opportunist, distancing himself in style from the mayor but actually enabling His Worship’s worst, most destructive instincts. After awhile, that’s the kind of stink that won’t easily come off.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr