It Ain’t All Glamour And Caviar

July 7, 2014

Today, city council gathers together in a special meeting called to appoint two interim councillors to replace the recently elected members of parliament and provincial parliament respectively, yourehiredAdam Vaughan (Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina) and Peter Milczyn (Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore). The two join Doug Holyday, who left City Hall just last year after winning a provincial by-election against Mr. Milczyn, only to lose the seat in last month’s general election, as a triumvirate of former councillors, heading for higher orders of government before their terms in municipal office were officially over.

It got me to thinking about the role of city councillor.

All 3 of these men, Holyday, Milczyn and Vaughan, would be classified as council veterans. Including Holyday’s time as a local politician back in the annals of pre-recorded history, between them, they have about 453 years of accumulated elected experience. So I think it’s safe to say that the role of city councillor was not seen as some sort of stepping stone for any of them.poisonous

In fact, I’d hazard a guess that all 3 of their departures were precipitated, at least in some part, due to the foul air at City Hall generated by the continued stink bomb of the Ford Administration. Who, given a choice, would stick it out in such a toxic work environment? It’s going to take years to remove the sludge and de-contaminate that soil. Let’s spend some time over here in greener pastures, shall we?

Only Adam Vaughan (as far as I heard and I was in easy listening distance, living in the riding he won last week) cited a tangible reason for moving on to federal politics. He felt stymied at the municipal level in dealing fully with the big, systemic, intractable issues facing the city. His monster under the bed is affordable housing. Something the provincial government largely downloaded onto the municipalities nearly two decades ago. limitationsSomething the federal government hasn’t touched in a generation.

For Vaughan, housing was part of a wider urban agenda that Ottawa had largely neglected, save the odd political project or the two bits of gas tax thrown cities’ way, much to municipalities’ detriment. This is where the infrastructure deficit began, its source, a nearly dried-up riverbed. Mr. Vaughan heads to Parliament Hill in the hopes of completing the work he couldn’t finish as city councillor.

Which speaks volumes to the job of being a city councillor. A position some 45 people will seek to fill today, and well over two hundred (and counting) city wide in October’s municipal election.

Being a city councillor is a thankless job. It demands long hours and lots of personal sacrifice. Forget what the likes of the Fords or Sue-Ann Levys say about the gravy train and life in the clamshell. thanklessjobIt’s a grueling, 80+ hour/week occupation where you’re always on call. If that’s not the schedule the councillor representing you maintains, you need to ask why and consider voting another way in a few months time.

I’m just going to put this out there as pure opinion and an unsourced claim.

Your city councillor works much harder than your MPP or MP. They get paid less. There is no pension, no matter how long you serve, just a straight up severance package. There is no glory in what they do.

While an MP or MPP dabbles in constituency work, this is what consumes a city councillor’s time and effort. Getting sidewalks fixed. Filling potholes. Making sure garbage gets picked up properly. Dealing with basement flooding. Fence exemptions. Yes, fence exemptions. City councillors adjudicate neighbourhood spats over the height and placement of fences.cleaningupthemess

None of it head line grapping. Much of it mundane. Little of it easy to negotiate.

On top of all that, a city councillor legislates. Each month at council meetings, there are by-laws to sort through, debate and pass. Taxation implementation to consider. Transformative city development to deliberate and put into action.

And here’s the thing.

Municipal governments don’t have the full tool box at their disposal to deal with all of this. Both fiscally and jurisdictionally, council regularly has its hands tied with many of the pressing matters it faces. pleasesirThe powers of taxation are severely limited by the province. Too much of the city’s day-to-day operations are funded off the property tax base.

Say, Toronto, the 6th largest government in the country, wanted to toll its roads to pay for some of its much needed new transit. Not so fast, guys. The province controls many of the key access points to make this work properly.

Even how this city decides it wants to elect its local representation is ultimately in the hands of Queen’s Park to decide.

And don’t get me started on the OMB and the TPA, both unelected entities that serve at the pleasure of higher orders of governments but with huge stakes in the operations of Toronto.

Too many of our city councillors use this dynamic to avoid taking responsibility or making hard decisions. Ssaluteome to further their only seeming objective of keeping taxes low [*cough, cough* Denzil Minnan-Wong *cough, cough* David Shiner]. Others, because doing nothing is what they do best (*cough, cough* Frances Nunziata *cough cough* Frank Di Giorgio].

But those who soldier on, despite the limitations of their office, and endeavour to make Toronto a better city for all of its residents, they are a special breed. Under-appreciated and over-worked, it is, to paraphrase our mayor, a job I would not wish on my worst enemy. Those who accept that fact, and the challenge, are owed our utmost respect and consideration.

thankfully submitted by Cityslikr