Taking Care Of Business

June 1, 2013

Here was my first reaction:

City council must act with blazing fury… Actually, the first reaction was:ptahasdisbanded

City council must act with blazing furry. Funnier, but didn’t take me in the direction I wanted to go.

City council must act with blazing fury to counter the growing perception that Toronto is on political fire, gridlocked, mismanaged and manhandled. It isn’t true. People shouldn’t think it is.

The mayor’s office is clearly dysfunctional. Order has broken down. Despite their best attempts to give off the air of business as usual, with his daily press conferences – in themselves unusual for the normally media averse mayor – touting policy initiatives from 2011, there’s a manic desperation to the show. As you were. Nothing to see here, folks. Folks.

Unfortunately, the disarray is being extrapolated on to the wider council. Civic governance has broken down. The premier of the province has expressed concern and is monitoring the situation. Dark talk of dissolving council and control being taken by Queen’s Park.


“Quite honestly,” Councillor John Parker told the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat on Friday, “as I said all along, one person in this building has a problem but that doesn’t translate to the rest of us.”

“My work goes on, the work of my colleagues goes on, the work of the city goes on and whether the mayor is part of it or not should be a matter of concern to him but frankly it is not a matter of concern to me.”

While that may be overly sanguine of Councillor Parker, the mayor’s office does possess enough procedural oomph to throw up roadblocks and drag the governance process out, the business of city running is being conducted even in the dark shadow cast by the mayoral tumult. That’s the way it is, how our system works. Everything’s fine.

But it’s doesn’t seem that way to the wider public. It’s not just the mayor who’s looking like a bumbling, country bumpkin. takincareofbusinessThe ability to govern ourselves is being held up to question.

Maybe I’m allowing myself to get caught up in the frenzy but I’d like to see the council step up with a flagrant display of authority. Go all Alexander Haig on the mayor’s ass by declaring who exactly is in control here. Make a point of very visibly pushing Mayor Ford to the sidelines. Officially state what is already the de facto situation at City Hall.

How exactly to do that?

Remove the chairs of a couple of the big committees like Budget and Public Works and Infrastructure. Re-configure the committee membership to better reflect the wider will of the council. Erase any stamp the mayor now has on them.

And next council meeting put forth a motion to remove Speaker Frances Nunziata from her position. Aside from the mayor and his brother, no one exemplifies the aggressively partisan and divisive nature of city council more than the speaker. Dumping her and elevating Deputy Speaker Parker to the position would set a much more civil, productive tone than we’ve been witness to for the past two and a half years.

It would go a long way to establishing a post-Ford era that in many ways has already happened.

Yeah anyway, turns out such machinations are much harder in reality than they are in my ever hopeful (and not a little bit spiteful) imagination.

Reading through the Toronto Municipal Code Council Procedures, it seems what little extra power the office of the mayor has is pretty ironclad. Even a super-majority of councillors (30) cannot simply undo what a mayor has done in terms of appointments. takeanaxetotheplaceThere doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to replace committee chairs or members once they are in place. (Although I am curious to know how the TTC commission putsch took place and all the Ford allies removed last year. Perhaps because it’s a commission and not a committee, and the rules are slightly different.)

The one intriguing possibility is in removing the council speaker. A two-thirds majority can vote to replace the speaker and nominate someone else but the mayor has ultimate veto power. So I envisioned this scenario where council turfs Councillor Nunziata from the speaker’s chair but Mayor Ford refuses to sign off on any replacement. This continues until council meets where, in an official speaker’s absence, the mayor would have to chair the meeting.

Oh, the possibilities. Mayor Ford stuck in the speaker’s chair for an entire meeting unless he wanted to hand over the duties to Deputy Speaker Parker. A backdoor triumph for the council rebellion.

On the other hand, such a state of affairs could simply heighten a sense of inoperable gridlock. A sager sage than I also pointed out the favourable optics for the mayor in this case. Once more under siege by those ignoring the democratic will of the people of Toronto, it would feed into the already ample persecution complex of the mayor and his supporters. farceHis outsider status further accentuated.

Better to just carry on and conduct business as usual. “…the work of the city goes on,” as Councillor Parker said, “and whether the mayor is part of it or not should be a matter of concern to him but frankly it is not a matter of concern to me.” When all is said and done, Mayor Ford is just one vote and if he fails to use what power he’s been granted to marshal a majority of council behind him, well, that’s all on him. He’ll have to explain his failure to the voters in 2014.

But might I suggest city council recognize the extraordinary circumstances it’s found itself in and go a little further than simply ‘business as usual’? Be bold in the power that it has to go beyond the mayor’s obstructionist intent. Craven votes like last month’s transit funding debacle only help feed into the growing sense that nothing productive is being done. Mayor Ford brought council down to his level on that.

It’s time for council to step up and distinguish itself from the mess that is the mayor’s office now. Lead don’t simply react. Accept the fact the mayor no longer commands the authority to lead the city (and view with suspicion any councillor pretending that he still does) and assume the leadership void.


That can be done simply, one vote at a time.

BTOly submitted by Cityslikr