Municipal Governance Election Manual


Last week in The Grid, Edward Keenan laid out an extensive campaign platform, urging municipal candidates to steal it from him. Since the official start to the race on January 2nd, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been thinking similar thoughts, building a 10 point policy proposal of our own in the hopes that it might help contribute to the election conversation. Our Municipal Governance Election Manual, we’ve dubbed it and, like Mr. Keenan, we too advocate for any and all candidates to shamelessly pilfer from it, picking and choosing the elements they like and agree with, and hopefully, expanding on them, fluffing them out to reveal a beautiful and beguiling plumage.

The manual lacks the specifics of Mr. Keenan’s platform. It could be because we’re less exacting and fundamentally lazier than he is. But we’d like to think it has to do with wanting to keep it more general in order to encourage interested candidates to adopt and make them their own. Fill in the particulars. Personalize it.

Today for the first time, we’re listing our ideas all in one post to spare everybody the hassle of clicking through all the annoying links and keeping all those tabs open (although we have kept links to each of the 10 points if you want to read about them in more detail). You’re welcome, Toronto.


So, here it is, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke Municipal Governance Election Manual:

1) Residents of Toronto are more than taxpayers. We live here. We work here. We play here. We raise families here. The taxes and user fees we pay are simply the cost of doing all these things.

Living in a city, being part of the life that goes on around you, should be tabulated by more than what it costs. Referred to as merely a taxpayer ignores the grander social element of being a city-zen. As Charles Montgomery writes in Happy City, “The city is ultimately a shared project…a place where we can fashion a common good that we simply cannot build alone.”

2) A city is only as good as its public realm. The post-war flight from the public good to private interest has undercut a sense of shared experience in city life. Detached, single family homes, dispersed on big lots, the automobile, shopping malls all represent an elevation of the individual good, a buffer against a collective enterprise.

Take the car (please!) for example.

Huge swaths of public space is designed, built and maintained exclusively for the movement of single individuals driving in their cars. Suggest a more equitable arrangement for other ways to get around, and somehow it’s declared a war. Find somewhere else to go. This is ours.

Again, Charles Montgomery in Happy City: “Rome rose as its wealth was poured into the common good of aqueducts and roads [not just for chariots – me.], then declined as it was hoarded in private villas and palaces.”


3) Ease of mobility. Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker’s gave a transit talk a couple months back called Abundant Access: Public Transit As An Instrument of Freedom.

Disproportionately favouring one mode of how we move around this city puts people who don’t need to, want to or can’t afford to use that mode as their primary source of transportation at a disadvantage. Especially if that mode is the least efficient way of moving the most amount of people around the city. It carves out public space in favour of private use.

The only rational, civic-minded approach a municipal candidate can take in terms of transportation policy is a pledge to re-arrange the priorities that have been in place for decades and decades and decades now. It’s been said many times by many people but the goal should be about moving people not cars. Candidates need to be saying it louder and more often.

4) Taxation. Ugghhh. It’s time we stopped referring to taxes as a burden and recognize them for what they are. The only way we build a better city, with a better public realm and provide the most opportunities for the most people.

There’s no other way, folks. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise, that there’s some magical way out there that we can get everything we want without paying for it is either lying or delusional. Maybe both.

I heard it said at a recent deputation at City Hall, a request to ‘tax us fairly, spend wisely’. We can debate until the cows come home on the concepts of ‘fairly’ and ‘wisely’ but we need to move on past this silly, selfish idea that taxes are bad, a burden. Harkening back again to Charles Montgomery, “The city is a shared project…a place where we can fashion a common good that we simply cannot build alone.” And in the words of one former mayor (more or less), a great city, a prosperous city, a fair city does not come for free.


5) The urban-suburban divide. Governing this city does not have to be a zero-sum game. I mean, it does if you’re trying to promote divisiveness as a political strategy. We are not complete aliens to one another, we Torontonians. Many have grown up in the suburbs and moved to the inner core. Others the reverse.

Of course, some of the challenges we face are different and need different solutions, depending where we live, where we work, where we go to school. One size does not, cannot fit all. But any approach to fixing the problems that currently plague us as a city shouldn’t come at the expense of others. It needs to come at the expense to us all.

6) Civic engagement. It’s more than just voting every 4 years. It’s more than paying taxes. It’s about encouraging participation. It’s about listening to disparate voices beyond those on AM talk radio and in Tim Horton’s line-ups. It’s about opening up decision making beyond just at election day.

7) Civic audacity. Cities, communities, neighbourhoods, streets aren’t built or created on a foundation of no. Aiming higher will yield better results than lowering expectations and demanding little. We need a sense of daring in the face of things that aren’t working. Accepting a broken status quo because that’s the way things have always been done is the surest way to perpetuate both a sense of decline as well as decline itself.


8) Social justice. If you’re not interested in working for a city that improves the lives and opportunities of everyone living in it, your motives for running for municipal office are suspect. A city pockmarked by inequity, poverty and the daily grind of precariousness is not a place utilizing its greatest resource: the people choosing to live there. Social justice cannot be an abstraction, delivered with an empty slogan. It must be the cornerstone – the policy initiative core — of any municipal politician’s campaign platform.

9) Business plan. Live, play, work. A healthy city must provide all those opportunities for all its residents. None of the three can function properly if any of them aren’t.

Like so many other cities in developed nations, Toronto is undergoing a fundamental workplace change. The manufacturing base has collapsed. Fortunately, the local economy is a diverse one with a firm foothold in both the information and service sectors.

With limited tools at their disposal, municipal politicians must make the best of what they have. Their business strategy has to be more than just promising low taxes, however. They must lay out ideas how to make the city a more attractive place to not only invest in but to work in. Good business instincts aren’t exclusively about saving money.


10) Rave don’t rage. In many ways, this one’s just a summary of our summary. Using elements of the previous 9 points, our local representatives have to endeavour to make the city sing. We hear talk of wanting to attract the best talent in all walks of life to the city, the best and the brightest, the most innovative and hardest working. You do that by building a city that nobody could imagine living anywhere but there. A place people believe will best provide the necessary conditions for them to flourish, to find fulfilling relationships, raise a family, grow old in.

The city entices because it is enticing.

You want a city people want to live in not one they wind up living in reluctantly, because they have to. In order to do that, you have to show the place a little love, endeavour to do the impossible, stop short-changing it. You need to turn the level of expectation up to 11.

Let me add a final point to this already lengthy post.


11) This doesn’t have to be a blood sport. Sure, elections are tough, sometimes unruly affairs. They are a competition after all.

They don’t have to be cutthroat, however. Fierce is different than vicious. Winning ugly tends not to translate into governing pretty.

Convince us why we should vote for you, why your ideas are better than the other candidates. We can assess your opponents on our own, thank you very much. We don’t need your help in discovering their weaknesses and flaws. Travelling down that path only really makes you look petty and insecure, unfit for public office.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr

17 thoughts on “Municipal Governance Election Manual

  1. Inspiring and idealistic post. I love it! Funnily, much of your vision describes Toronto as it is – we’re a great, livable city (though of course our worst problems will always need attention and solving). As a Scarborough resident, I have to wonder, though, why the shopping mall is maligned. For the less dense suburbs, a gathering place with shops, services, theatre, food court under one roof is very appealing – and still popular. Our sense of community. Why knock that? We also have neighbourhood plazas (the northeast end is particularly thriving), etc, but the Scarborough Town Centre (with the Civic Centre and gov’t offices at Albert Campbell Square adjacent) serves that common-community area for us. Condos are sprouting up in the area. We even have social services within the mall – plus the Scarborough Walk of Fame. Nice. High-rise condos are growing exponentially in Toronto – and in the inner suburbs, particularly Scarborough – and with that come density, commercial development, etc. No need to oppose them. What the old city needs, though, is more affordable family housing, so that schools don’t close, and people with kids don’t flee to the outer suburbs, as has been the trend. 🙂 Cheers!

    • Dear Ms HelenInToronto,

      We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke didn’t necessarily intend to malign the malls per se but do think it is important to denote the difference between them and what we would regard as a truly public space or public realm. Malls are public spaces of commerce on private property. They are subject to the rules and regulations determined by the private owners. That’s all well and good as far as it goes but hardly qualifies as public space in the way we’re looking at it.

      There’s also the issue of the built form of many suburban malls that are primarily accessed by automobiles which, by their very nature, diminish the notion of public space.

      But again, there was no intention to malign the notions of malls. They are certainly a community hub in many of the regions of this city.

      • Primary access to parks within the city is also by car. So are all of our public parks diminished by car access? The Beaches, Lakeshore West, High Park, Earle Bales, Downsview? The list goes on and on.

  2. Given the Corporate Media(which Grid is affiliated); the mayoral candidates & Province have to consider taxing & spending.
    Chow has indicated that she will be inline with inflation.

    Miller’s first term 2004-6 consisted of 3% increases.

    Ford who inherited a $369 million Surplus had 0% in 2011 & 1%LTT that he failed to eliminate…
    2012 – 2.50% increase & 1% LTT
    2013 – 2.00% increase & 1% LTT
    2014 – 2.23% increase & 1% LTT
    From the interim tax bills the 2014 is effectively 2.71% with the Provincial portion 0.48%

    Happy Paddy’s Day!

  3. Thank you for your response! 🙂 This discussion is important to illuminate how people in all corners of Toronto live and make the most of their city! Great to keep an open mind – especially since we are a relatively young and growing city! Just to update you on something you may not know: most shopping centres in Toronto are easily accessible by TTC. You should check it out! Fairview Mall is on the Sheppard subway line, Scarborough Town Centre is a stop on the LRT, Yorkdale has its subway stop – as well as numerous buses that stop directly in front of them. They are surrounded by residential blocks. 🙂

    • It helps to try to understand what suburban shopping malls represent to “progressive” urbanites, who despite that self-affixed label are in many ways quite backward-looking in their preference for pre-corporate forms of retail, pre-industrial forms of production, pre-WW II forms of housing and pre-automotive modes of transportation. The 20th century must have been a great disappointment to them.

      Their ideal form of commerce is the old-school market square, with local independent merchants peddling goods made by local independent producers. Anything that smacks of artisanship, craft or cottage industry seems to warm their hearts. In contrast, the modern shopping mall, full of chain stores selling imported mass-produced goods, surrounded by large parking lots and situated to serve neighbourhoods full of single-family housing, represents pretty much everything they despise.

      And here’s where Sonny comes along to tell me I should start my own site called “All Fired Up In The Mall Smoke” or something like that so I can “engage my ilk”.

      • Dear Mr GW,

        We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke think you just spent 3 paragraphs worth of writing when two words would’ve done the trick: Straw Man.

      • Hello! Ah, I wish my well-meaning comment didn’t create a rift! The idea here is working toward the best quality of life possible in such a large city – for citizens of all cultures and lifestyles, right? 🙂 We have different challenges than a small town, obviously. In support of CitySlikr – I love central hubs, parks to walk, bike, play in (we’ve got plenty – just gorgeous), independent small businesses (there are hundreds in the ‘burbs – most serving the the unique needs of the communities that surround them, ie halal food, Chinese-speaking shops, bakeries, teahouses, etc.- little Hong Kong, Midland/Finch- awesome. Not that they get much press elsewhere, but I digress), public libraries (suburbs have some of the busiest), great schools, safe streets, cultural hubs (have you seen the Jing Yin temple? Chinese Cultural Centre, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, etc?). Even a cursory amount of research will reveal a vibrant community. Do we have more space here? Yes – many prefer it that way. Do some people LOVE their gardens and lawns? Absolutely – and take great pride in them, especially if they come from countries where they were crammed and ultra congested. Does everyone drive? Hell no! TTC (buses, LRT, subway) is widely used in the burbs. We’re not doing badly at all. For morale’s sake, we should look at what Toronto is doing RIGHT. About shopping centres – gasp – think of them as indoor marketplaces. There are small businesses within as well, kiosks & family-owned places/services within the malls too. Pedestrian life under a roof. Hundreds of local employees – from sales, food court workers, maintenance, security, etc – make their living there and would appreciate being recognized as ‘real people’. If you want grittier – we have countless strip plazas, an extensive flea market (although Pickering’s is super ace), I could go on all day. For the record, I love to go downtown once in a while, for theatre, new restaurants, festivals, etc…but don’t see any reason to feel suburbs don’t provide a great quality of life as well. We’re all a part of Toronto, and should try to recognize & accentuate positive aspects in everyone’s choice of geography. Cheers. Here’s to city-building! 🙂

      • Helen, you make an excellent point about how some newcomers come to Canada hoping to escape the stifling density of their land of origin. It must puzzle them how, in such a spacious country, there are people so keen to pack everyone so tightly together.

      • Thank you GW! 🙂 I’m observing a bit of new-city renaissance, if I may be so bold. It’s true – the vast physical space we enjoy in Canada is a luxury to most. To own a pretty home with a backyard and front garden – attainable dream. Just as a personal example, when my parents arrived here as immigrants in the 70’s (one from Greece, the other the Philippines), they were dying to move from their small apartment in the downtown Dufferin area (or thereabouts) to Scarborough, so enamoured were they of the fab parks and fresh air. I’ve noticed many Sri Lankan and Indian families now moving further east to buy lovely and more spacious homes and loving it. Not to mention the growth in Markham and Richmond Hill. I believe they are creating their own ‘downtown’ there now, in fact. It’s a brave new world. 🙂

      • P.S. Just to be clear – despite my drum-banging for the ‘burbs – I LOVE Toronto, downtown Toronto. It’s vibrant, energetic, full of great sights and am there at least once a month. Love Harbourfront, Chinatown (a bit grittier than ours, but still fun), TIFF in Sept, Ruby Watchco a little eastward (love Lynn Crawford!), Kensington, Yonge & Dundas (hello Urban Eatery), King St, etc., as well as the Beaches…I could ramble for days. (I’m in love with the Mirvish theatre,btw) Ok, cheers! 🙂

      • Once again Helen, I’m impressed by the way you’re able to find common ground. You’d be a very good mediator.

        Central to much of what you’re saying though is the it’s great to have choices in terms of lifestyle and activities. That’s in sharp contrast to some of the “urban experts” out there who believe that a city should be an instrument to mold and shape the people who live therein.

        For example, some believe that a city should be designed so that people are forced to interact with each other more for the sake of social cohesion or walk more for the sake of physical fitness. For many of these people, the element of individual choice in these matters is merely a nuisance that has to be overcome.

      • Dear Mr. GW,

        Once again, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke feel it necessary to point out that you tend to create the argument that you then set out to disagree with. That’s called a Straw Man. You’re essentially debating with yourself and are allowing us to be privy to it.

        It’s interesting that your deride “urban experts” for attempting “to mold and shape” the way people live and move around in the city when, in fact, the suburban built form you so love and tout is, arguably, the most planned and centrally controlled environment going. Suburbia represents the pinnacle of molding and shaping how people live.

      • Hey – we’re all Torontonians here! Nixing any talk of war and division. 🙂 How about we recognize there are positive aspects to both models of living? 🙂 People live wherever they prefer (and can afford, of course), Often close to family, schools, amenities – or whatever fits their lifestyle goals. Sometimes the population of a city explodes so much that spreading out is absolutely necessary. Please keep that in mind. We’re not evil nor are we being ‘controlled’! 🙂 Live, work, play is not restricted to downtown. We have the ultimate freedom! I can choose to rent a room downtown and be close to all the excitement and attractions (and forego car insurance, parking, & all the associated headaches), I can buy a small home in the more spacious and affordable family-oriented suburbs (I actually live in a condo in the ‘burbs), or I can decide to purchase a little farm somewhere in the golden horseshoe – and no one will kill me. 🙂 It’s all good.

      • Are my summaries of urbanist Toronto thought, as unflattering as they may be, really that out there that you consider them nothing more than straw men? Are you saying that you or your contemporaries have never made the argument that maximizing social interaction between strangers and non-powered forms of getting around within a city are socially beneficial? Have you never shown a preference for small domestic independent businesses over corporate chain stores and restaurants? I suppose to avoid this “straw man” accusation I could start citing actual quotes from you or other downtown bloggers and commentators and responding to those directly, but I suppose I could then be accused of taking those comments out of context.

        There is nothing in the “suburban built form” that prevents someone from taking a stroll in the evening, riding a bike to the store or talking to their neighbours. And as Helen points out, there are plenty of opportunities in suburban communities for people to enjoy the arts or patronize independent businesses.

        And as for the suggestion that I “love and tout” the suburban built form, I object on both counts. “Tout” implies trying to sell someone on something, and I have no intent to sell or promote anything with regard to the suburban lifestyle other than its continued existence and availability to those who desire it.

        As for “love”, I think you’re confusing the vehicle with the cargo. What I love are privacy, personal space, autonomy, minding my own business and not having others mind mine.

        With regard to “molding and shaping”, I don’t think the people that planned and designed suburbs did so out of a specific desire or intention to make people less communal or sociable, discourage them from walking or using a bicycle, or force them to become more private and independent. They didn’t set out to make public transit difficult to use out of fear that people would talk to each other too much. But you often see this kind of “it’s for their own good” rhetoric in the other direction. Developers build single-family detached homes in the suburbs for the exact same reason they build high-rise condo towns with small units in the core – to meet demand.

        You don’t see many suburbanites arguing that downtown needs to become more like a suburb. You’ll see the odd developer trying to stick a big-box store in a dense urban area, but you don’t have people in the burbs cheering them on as they do so. But you’ll find plenty of downtowners cheering on suburban infill and densification.

      • Gw, you make some good points. I think the key is not to dwell on the ‘worst of’ scenario in either lifestyle. There are some awful wasteland spots in Scarborough, for example, as there are some drawbacks to downtown (for example, noise, air pollution & traffic). That said, I admire the downtown lifestyle (as do most Toronto tourists who stay in the core) although I abhor crowds, but as mentioned in an earlier comment, I frequent the inner city to enjoy the best of what it has to offer. I will concede, though, that unless you have a circle of family/friends in the ‘burbs, it CAN be tough to break into socializing, or to simply meet people. I don’t recommend it for a single person (unless they like to be surrounded by hordes of kids and parents!) Doesn’t mean connections don’t happen – or that city dwellers are making new friends left and right (witness the stone faces on the subway!) – but we naturally ‘create’ community spaces. My first argument that shopping centres, as strangely distasteful they are to some, often serve that purpose (or did before online shopping became the norm!) 🙂 Now much of ‘community’ happens through the schools and places like the YMCA. Thanks for the civilized discourse.:)

  4. The irony is that I don’t even like shopping malls that much. Too many people. Now shopping online, that’s more my speed. 😉

Leave a Reply