After months and months and months, maybe even a year or so, of harping on about ignoring the mayor’s office as anything to do with the actual governance of this city — Boom! – there we were, right back at it. A full slate of “major” candidates now established, a couple of debates this past week under our belts, and it’s like March 2014 us doesn’t even recognize March 2013 us. It’s now all about the mayor’s race. How did candidate X respond to the accusations made about them by candidate Y? Why is what candidate Z saying now so radically different from what they said 3 months ago?
Yaddie, yaddie, yaddie, am I right?
Don’t get me wrong. The race for mayor is important. Much of how it plays out over the next 7 months will be an indication of where voters are sitting on bigger picture matters. It’ll serve as a civic temperature gauge. Is it still red hot with anger and resentment like it was back in 2010 or has the outlook cooled some, less volatile, making us more open to a larger discussion?
But as the likes of Jude MacDonald and Paisley Rae patiently continue to point out, that’s not where the big change is ripe for the picking. If we have learned nothing else from the ongoing saga of Rob Ford, the one take away should be, the office of the mayor can be reduced to little more than a figurehead. Without the will of 22 councillors, the mayor is impotent. Sure, the mayor remains capable of stealing the spotlight, having their views echoed by those paid to cover them. That’s it. Any other influence on the actual running of the city is minimal unless they are leading a team consisting of at least half of the 44 councillors.
In many ways, who will be elected mayor of Toronto in October is now largely out of our hands. All the frontrunners, from which we will almost assuredly be choosing one of come election day, have their teams in place, their organizational structure is up and running. Many resources have fallen into place in order to ultimately secure one vote of forty-five in the next term of city council. An important vote to be sure, one that will be given a head-start to influence the debate and set an agenda. But one vote just the same.
It could be argued that your time and effort would be better spent ensuring that your local voice on council best reflects your views and opinions, your civic values. When it comes down to the votes at city council at every meeting, your councillor’s counts equally with the mayor’s. After all the horse-trading and jockeying that goes on leading up to any vote, your councillor is just as likely to influence the outcome as the mayor is.
You put an x on the ballot for mayor to choose a direction you want to see the city go in. You make your choice for city councillor to see that direction is actually implemented. The first vote is a gesture. The second, a directive.
This goes beyond any sort of partisanship.
If you endorse the direction Mayor Ford wants to take the city, with a continued emphasis on low taxes and small government, make sure you have a councillor that’s fighting in that direction. Otherwise, they’re working at cross purposes, one vote pretty much cancelling out the other. The flipside of that is your councillor can serve as a bulwark if a mayor starts galloping off on a course you’re not happy with.
Ultimately, you elect a councillor to serve your interests not the interests of the mayor.
The thing about ward level campaigns is that even the slightest change can alter the result. Thirteen of the council races in 2010, nearly a quarter of them, were determined by just a few hundred votes. Twenty councillors were sent to City Hall with less than half their ward’s popular vote.
A slight uptick in turnout or switch in voter preference might’ve meant a different outcome. Residents in one building or on one block coming out to vote or changing who they voted for could well have tipped the balance at City Hall in another direction. Municipal elections are as close to direct democracy as we have right now. It’s a pity we tend to squander the opportunity through disinterest and disengagement.
Even Mayor Ford recognizes the importance of council’s make-up. He’s predicting big changes come October, a sweeping out of councillors not part of his Ford Nation. While his motives are entirely self-interested and woefully misguided – he had control of city council throughout the first year of his term; he squandered it through misrule and an errant belief that holding such sway came with the territory, was bestowed not earned – he knows of which he speaks. It would be unfortunate and unwise of us to disregard his words.
Changing the mayor (or re-electing the one we have currently) is only a part of what we should be looking to do in 2014, and a small part at that. If what you really want to do is transform the dynamic or the culture of behaviour at City Hall, it can be done one councillor, one ward at a time. Get involved with a local race. Start here at Dammit Janet!, with a primer of what your councillor’s been up to for the past 3+ years. Then, pick up the phone or click on the volunteer button to find out how you can pitch in and help elect the representative who you believe will best act for, speak for, stand for the things that are most important to you.
A few hours here and there of your time over the next 7 months might just ensure the city runs more smoothly, and moves ahead more enthusiastically with things that need to be done over the course of the next 4 years.
— voluntarily submitted by Cityslikr