Ward Boundary Review Review at the Torontoist

February 6, 2015

While we may be enduring a medically prescribed heat and sun therapy hiatus, we still managed to co-write with Paisley Rae a little something something for the Torontoist about the ongoing ward boundary review. Cheers!

funinthesun

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At the penultimate meeting of the City’s first round of 12 ward-boundary review public meetings, a gentleman who’d sat silently for the previous hour raised his hand to ask a question. Would any of this, he wondered, help people out with real problems? Like poverty, or affordable housing, or income inequality?

It’s a good question; something of a stumper, actually. No one in the room—including City staff facilitating the meeting—could answer it. Will ward reconfiguration help in any way to address some of the serious and long-term issues the city faces? Could it even, if that were a goal? Or is this review simply an organizational readjustment?

Regardless, it’s an overdue adjustment. The last ward realignment happened in 2000, in the early days of amalgamation. Based on 1991 census data, that ward rejigging was hastily slapped together by the provincial government, which reduced the number of city councillors from 56 to 44. It was a number arrived at by the same slapdash approach the Harris government took to the entire amalgamation process: they took the 22 provincial ridings (which had been reduced to mirror the federal ridings), cut them in half and—voila!—44 wards.

Fifteen years later, the city has changed. In time for the 2015 election, the federal riding boundaries have been adjusted, increasing from 22 to 25 ridings to reflect Toronto’s population growth. The provincial government is expected to follow suit. While it certainly isn’t necessary for the city to follow the same maps of the federal and provincial governments, judging from some of the public feedback at consultations held in December and January, there will be pressure to go that route.

The real pressure to redraw the lines of the city, however, stems from Toronto’s robust population growth and the unevenness of its distribution. Population-wise, some wards have grown more unequal than others. This imbalance creates inequitable local representation, and makes it more difficult for the most populous wards to serve their constituents effectively.

It is impossible to draw up wards with the exact number of residents to a person, in part because other considerations factor into new ward boundaries. Keeping “communities of interest” and “traditional neighbourhoods” together, respecting the history of certain wards, and adhering to “natural and physical boundaries” like ravines, rivers, or the 401 are all elements that affect the final outcome. But it’s the population divergence in the current ward configuration that is the primary driving force behind this.

The provincial mandate states that the population of any ward cannot be 25 per cent higher or lower than the average ward. Currently, we have differences ranging as high as 45 per cent above average, and this inequity is only projected to get worse by 2031 as the city grows.

If you live and vote in a ward like Ward 23, Willowdale, you’re one of over 88,000 documented residents, according to the 2011 census. This is about double the population of Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth, which has a population of just under 45,000 residents.

One vote in Ward 23 does not equal one vote in Ward 29. It’s worse if you consider the representation, where 88,000 people rely on the same political infrastructure as half that many people in another ward.

This disparity might serve as one answer to the gentleman who asked the “How does this matter?” question. We should try to ensure that everyone has fair and effective access to their representation at City Hall. Without that, some voices remain unheard; the barriers of marginalization too high to climb.

This early in the process, the importance of the review isn’t always evident, at least judging by the low turnout at most of the first round of public consultations. Unfortunately, the three meetings in Scarborough and three in Etobicoke were conducted in the run-up to the Christmas holiday season; weekday sessions were also sparsely attended. Often, those present in an official capacity—the consultant team, councillors, or staff of various levels of government—far outnumbered the general public.

Interest picked up in the new year at the Toronto-East York and North York meetings. One meeting in a North York library had 25 or 30 people, some in their capacity as a member of a residents or business association, but most simply engaged citizens. More councillors showed up to these meetings too, reflecting a heightened sense of community involvement.

At the meeting in East York, Councillor Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth) may have struck close to the truth about the public interest in the process when she asked staff, “Do you think you’ll get more public involvement when there’s something to criticize?” After all, it all seems pretty theoretical at this stage. When the staff report returns with lines on a map sometime between May and November, that’s when the real jostling will begin.

When the issue was first raised during the 2010 election, then mayoral candidate Rob Ford used the opportunity to run with his “cut council in half” mantra. The idea has gained traction, including among some councillors. At one of the meetings, Councillor Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) said that people living in high-rise towers don’t need the same kind of representation as their single-family household counterparts. After all, he argued, can’t they just call building management?

No doubt, fewer city councillors will be a major talking point as the review progresses. Keeping our wards based on the new federal ridings, at least superficially, makes some organizational sense.

But the ward-boundary review, although seemingly dry and bureaucratic, is more than that: it’s a chance to reshape and re-imagine the city itself. Toronto is not the same city it was in 2000, or 1991, and it’s time for our political representation to reflect that. It’s a review that has long-term significance, too, as the new wards will be in place until 2031.

We should seize this moment to create a made-in-Toronto solution, rather than simply adapt to the form decided by the level of government that has the least to do with the city’s daily operations. It’s an opportunity to more fully make Toronto one city rather than 6 former municipalities.

Then maybe we can start to deal with the problems and issues we all face.

drunken

 — rum-soddenly submitted by Cityslikr

Civic Inaction

June 4, 2014

Listening to the new CEO of the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance, Sevaun Palvetzian, on Metro Morning yesterday,listeningtotheradio the thought crossed my mind just as host Matt Galloway articulated it. “What has that got us?” That, being the type of advocacy and public discourse generating the GTCAA undertakes. The harnessing ‘the wisdom of the crowds”, as Ms. Palvetzian stated.

The GTCAA has been on the forefront of the region’s congestion question during the past couple years or so. Its Your32 campaign sought to bring home the total cost of congestion to each individual living in the GTHA, not just in terms of money but time lost as well. What would you do with the extra 32 minutes you’d gain if we all weren’t bogged down in traffic and under-serviced by public transit?

Get building more transit, the group chimed in. Fund it. Build it. Push on with The Big Move. Now.

A great discussion to be having but where’s the action, Civic Action Alliance? doitdoitdoitThe follow through? The results?

That’s probably too harsh. New transit is being built. The University-Spadina subway extension. The Eglinton LRT crosstown.

But there’s a shitload more to do and lots of questions about project priorities and where to get the money to fund them. Questions the GTCAA participated in asking and promoting to a wider audience for a broader discussion. The group helped create a real sense of urgency on the transit file.

And then, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum of decision making.

John Tory, the former GTCAA chair, and the former CEO Mitzi Hunter, both left the organization to pursue political positions. civicactionallianceMs. Hunter won a seat in the provincial legislature for the Liberal government in a Scarborough by-election last summer and is running for re-election in the current general election. Mr. Tory is seeking the job of mayor of Toronto.

I think it’s safe to say that neither candidate has pursued the transit issue with the same zeal they had back in their GTCAA days. Hunter, mysteriously, became the Scarborough Subway Champion as part of the Liberal’s backroom politicization of the transit file in order to retain the seat, backing the more expensive and less expansive subway plan over the original Big Move LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line eastward. A switch Tory also favours as part of his mayoral campaign. We’re hearing little from either one of them about any sort of funding tools beyond the dedicated property tax increase for the Scarborough subway. coginthemachineRather than agents of change, they’ve settled into the role of obstructionists.

Writing this, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that politics is where bold ideas go to die. Give a listen to the Metro Morning segment following the interview with Ms. Palvetzian. Three party appointed talking heads spouting talking points ahead of the provincial leaders’ debate last night. Oh, that leaders’ debate last night! The boldest vision based on a monumental lie and the other two just carefully calculated poses.

We can talk all we want, hash out plans, harness the wisdom of crowds, but if those we elect to implement such wisdom shrug off the responsibility of doing so, what’s it matter? Do we just accept the role of demanding big change while settling for incremental?

This is where political apathy sets in. “Where has that got us?” as Matt Galloway asked. What’s it matter? talkingheadsOur political leaders are listening to someone but it sure as hell ain’t us.

And I have to tell you, news that the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance had named Rod Phillips as its new chair of the board brought me no great comfort either. Searching through his bio, nothing jumped out at me that screamed civic-minded. Maybe I’m missing something but this is someone who until just recently was the head of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming, a provincial government Crown corporation that spearheaded the push for a casino on the city’s waterfront. Civic-minded? Really?

Perhaps we need to stop looking for outside help in solving our problems. Reading Marcus Gee’s 2009 article about the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance’s (originally known as the Toronto City Summit Alliance) founder, the late David Pecaut, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe he had it wrong.

“The message of his [Pecaut] life is that you don’t need to beat City Hall,” Gee wrote. “You can go around it. straightlinefromAtoBRather than wait for the creaking cogs of official machinery to turn, he learned to build networks of interested parties, private and public, that could forge ahead on their own.”

Maybe instead of trying to go around City Hall or Queen’s Park, we should expend our energy going through them. I think it borders on the delusional to think the major issues of our time – congestion, inequality, climate change – can be addressed without government signing on.  “Let’s just go out and do it, and tell City Hall when we’re done,” Mr. Pecaut is quoted as saying. How about we cut out the middle man, and just go out and take control of City Hall?

If we’re really fed up with politics, with the inaction we’re seeing on almost every front, the conversation shouldn’t be about whether or not to vote or what the proper way to decline a ballot is. It’s long past that. getinvolved1We should all be looking for and demanding to see candidates on the ballot who reflect our values and aspirations. Rarely, in my experience, has that not been the case.

Sure, many have been longshots and no-hopers. As long as we stay on the sidelines or remain content to hold our nose and vote for the least worst option, that’ll continue to be the case. Our time and energy would be better spent trying to change that dynamic rather than passively accept it and trying to work around it.

challengingly submitted by Cityslikr


On Activism And The World We Live In

June 13, 2013

The great thing about doing the thing I do, and yes, this is me doing something, aside from getting to trade barbs with former Harris government knobs, goodnewseveryoneis all the smart, engaged people I meet along the way.

Two of the smartest, most engaged people I’ve had the opportunity to meet are Desmond Cole and Dave Meslin. On Tuesday, the two helped roll the rock of voting reform a little bit further up the hill as the Government Management Committee’s Proposed Electoral Reform item made its way through city council, relatively unscathed. Now the questions of permanent resident eligibility to vote municipally, ranked ballots, internet voting and a review of municipal election finance rules are on their way to Queen’s Park to secure the provincial approval needed for any of these initiatives to go forward.

It’s just another step, for sure, with more than a few obstacles still to clear but, pick your own hoary cliché here, a long march is only completed step-by-step.rollingrock

Being an activist can’t be easy.

There are assholes like me, just popping up on the scene, who start yelling and think that’ll make an immediate difference. True, effective activism doesn’t work like that. It’s a slog. A long, tough slog.

Meslin has been stirring up the pot here in Toronto since the last century it seems. Oh. I’m sorry. What? 1998 is the last century. Well then. Meslin has been stirring up the pot here in Toronto since the last century.

Reclaim the Streets. Toronto Public Space Committee. City Idol. Toronto Cyclists Union. RaBIT. He was part of all those movements.

For his part, Desmond Cole’s been around the activist block a time or two himself. A Project Coordinator for I Vote Toronto, he’s been at ground zero for the push to open municipal voting to permanent residents. busyHe was a winning candidate for City Idol back in 2006, running in Ward 20 against Adam Vaughan. As a writer-activist, Cole has also been front and centre covering relations between the Toronto Police Services and the city’s visible minority communities.

The status quo is firmly entrenched. Budging it even just a little takes a lot of time and effort. You’re labeled a special interest or a usual suspect by those who like the status quo just fine, thank you very much, or who can’t see anything past it.

Even those fighting the same fight can turn unfriendly and unhelpful. I’ve witnessed firsthand the internal warfare going on between the camps trying to change our first-past-the-post voting system. Allies fighting for a better way to elect our representatives arrive at loggerheads over the exact method to do it.

Activism is not for the faint of heart. I think that’s especially true in these days of deep cynicism and disconnect to our political system. getbusyMuch easier to throw up your hands and say, well, they’re all corrupt, they all lie, a pox on all their houses than it is to roll up your sleeves, get into the trenches, firm in your conviction of changing this motherfucker up.

So I tip my hat to the likes of Dave Meslin and Desmond Cole, and say thank you. Not only are they fighting the good fight, they do so in such an infectious, enthusiastic way as to make it almost seem like fun. And why not? Civic participation is fun, despite opinions to the contrary.

And it would be remiss of me not to send out a big thumbs-up to Councillor Paul Ainslie as well. As chair of the Government Management Committee, he grabbed hold of the electoral reform issue and saw it through some very choppy waters especially at times due to his own unfriendly committee. His determination to see this through was as dogged and tireless as that of the likes of Meslin and Cole.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke spend much of our time expressing disappointment in the conduct of our local representatives at City Hall. So it behooves us then to take a moment and acknowledge when they exhibit exemplary behaviour. (Frankly, they do so at a much higher rate than they are ever given credit for.)

At the outset, Paul Ainslie never struck me as a particularly outstanding councillor. Early on in this term, he seemed to be just another right wing lap dog for Mayor Ford, obediently doing the mayor’s bidding and voting along party lines. thumbsup1That started to change for me when he stood up, outraged as the TPL board chair, to respond to then budget chief Mike Del Grande’s dim view of all the non-English language books and videos in the library’s catalogue.

His drift toward independence has continued and, while still too right leaning for my particular tastes, he has come to represent a moderate voice on council. Maybe he always was and it got lost in the ideological thunder that rolled over City Hall in the fall of 2010. He deserves a lot of credit for rising above the partisan tumult and delivering on what could be a real game-changer in terms of local politics.

Not immediately. But soonish. That’s the reality for activists and the politicians responsive to them. We owe both a huge hug of gratitude.

thankfully submitted by Cityslikr


A Term Limit On Dumb Ideas

February 12, 2013

You want to know how meritless the idea is of term limits on politicians? Both Mayor Rob Ford and I agree it’s without merit. timesupI’m not sure of the internal logic of that statement but, hey, if the Toronto Star’s Royson James can riff on the theme who am I to shy away?

“Public service is an honour,” Councillor Jaye Robinson says in Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article. “It is an opportunity to bring your knowledge and your experience to City Hall but it is not a career path. It is simply a calling, it is not a career.”

What is it about a life in politics that makes it so different from being a doctor or a bank manager? There’s a hint of Tea Party populism in the councillor’s statement, the dismissive view of career politicians. theresthedoorSomehow a politician’s ‘calling’ is finite — twelve years in her view – while a calling into the priesthood, say, is a lifelong pact.

It’s almost as if Councillor Robinson is suspicious of those who would make politics their life’s work. That no one could possibly want to make a career of public service in a capacity they excel at. You know what the problem with politics is? Politicians. Career politicians.

A call for term limits is the laziest of reactions to political disengagement and disenchantment. And that they’re being touted by two rookie councillors, Robinson and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who turfed incumbents in 2010 to get into office is even more puzzling. Their new blood and ideas can now infuse the politics of the city, to paraphrase Royson James, because of successful election campaigns.

Yes, there are huge advantages to being an incumbent, mostly name recognition that’s especially pronounced at the municipal level but for reasons beyond James’ overly simplistic office budget “re-election slush fund” thinking. I’m of the belief that being an incumbent at the municipal level is so formidable because, until recently at least, voters didn’t pay that much attention to local politics between election cycles. It’s the most junior level of government after all, concerned mostly with garbage pick-up and neighbourhood stop signs. publicparticipationSo remembering who their councillor’s name was the biggest effort most people put into it.

But I think there’s much better ways to effectively engage the public. Directly involving a community in the decision making process is one. That may mean using the easily hated councillor office budgets to host town halls and other types of meetings we’ve seen crop up recently like on the casino issue or transit funding. Let’s promote a more participatory budget approach that elicits public input before most of the decisions have been made rather than just in reaction to them.

We could also invigorate our electoral system to make it both more inclusive and more competitive. In the Torontoist yesterday, Desmond Cole made the case for extending municipal voting rights to permanent residents. “In 2006,” Cole writes, “Ryerson municipal affairs expert Myer Siemiatycki estimated that at least 250,000 Toronto residents, or 16 per cent of the city’s population, could not vote in municipal elections because they were not citizens.” stuntA quarter-million currently disenfranchised residents suddenly eligible to vote would most certainly shake up our local democracy.

How about modifying the way we vote? For years Dave Meslin and the folks at RaBIT have pushed the idea of alternative voting as a counter to the power of incumbency. A quick glance at the 2010 election results shows that a ranked ballot might’ve led to the defeat of 10 incumbent councillors.

This isn’t an argument suggesting that governance here in Toronto has no need of modernizing or recalibration. Imagine my smirk after reading the deputy mayor’s claim, “We’ve had people (at City Hall) that should never have been there for a day that have been there for years.” Talk about your kettle throwing the pot around in a glass house. But if it takes term limits in order to rid the place of do-nothing councillors like our budget chief, speaker or deputy mayor, well, we have bigger fish to fry. Term limits smack of cheap fixes and political stunts. Toss away ideas that make a lot of noise but deliver very little meaningful change.

time sensitively submitted by Cityslikr


John Sewell: Yesterday’s Man

December 10, 2012

Maybe it’s the holiday spirit slowly seeping into this empty, cold soul of mine but I gotta say, goofybastardsI love this big sprawling mess of a megacity and each and every one of its goofy bastard inhabitants. Except maybe one right now. John Sewell. In fact, I’m going to say something that very few people outside of maybe the Toronto Police Services have said before.

Fuck John Sewell. Fuck him and his rethinking the Toronto megacity article last week in the Globe and Mail. He couldn’t be more wrong-headed, and his attitude reflects the worst of our elitist downtown-ccentric thinking. As if everything was fine and dandy before the Mike Harris government unceremoniously ignored our collective municipal wishes and lumped us together with our suburban bumpkin cousins.

Here’s a fact that Mr. Sewell seems to conveniently overlook.

In a few weeks’ at the end of this year, amalgamation will be fifteen years old. During that time, we will have had a mayor from the former inner suburbs eight years and a mayor from the old downtown city seven. David Miller, at least until the outside workers strike in 2009, proved that issues could resonate beyond the 416 core. Mel Lastman was not without a base in downtown Toronto. megacityWhile perhaps representing the most extreme of the supposed divide, Rob Ford voters weren’t scarce in some old Toronto wards.

As easy as it is to write up the narrative of Rob Ford’s rise to power as nothing more than the face of inchoate suburban rage, looking to extract some sort of populist revenge upon the highfalutin elites, the truth is much more complicated. Rob Ford was a phenomenon of 2010, surfing a wave that broke perfectly for him

An unnerved population still reeling from a global economic freefall and looking for someone to blame for their uncertainty. Palpable anger in the air at municipal workers who were portrayed as lazy, shiftless fat cats always demanding a bigger chunk of the public purse. Outgoing politicians giving themselves a gold plated send off. Terrible candidates who either ran similar but much less effective anti-incumbent campaigns or who just couldn’t convey the good the Miller administration had undertaken or connect viscerally with voters.

Lightning in a bottle in other words. Something that will be much more difficult to pull off a second time. Recent polls certainly indicate as much.

There’s no question there are different attitudes between former municipalities that linger on. “Everyone recognizes that human behaviour is very much influenced by built form,” Sewell writes, “and that’s where the two cultures come in.” headinsandYes, Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York and York are still more car dependent, say, than parts of Toronto and East York. At least the areas that remain under-serviced by public transit are. But that would be less to do with built form than adaptation to new realities, wouldn’t it?

Mr. Sewell seems to believe that the die is cast. Something built sixty-years ago cannot ever change. Let’s just all accept that and stop pretending otherwise.

You know who else thinks along those lines? Mayor Rob Ford. Somehow he’s the backward thinking, knuckle-dragging stick in the mud but John Sewell’s the enlightened voice of downtowners everywhere who just doesn’t want to get his hands dirty making this shit work.

Look, amalgamation was poorly implemented, perhaps deliberately so. But the concept isn’t inherently bad. A few specifics were.

For starters, the savings from efficiencies that Queen’s Park promised would happen just didn’t materialize. Creating one big institute of some 2.5 million people from six smaller ones detonated a critical mass instead of generating economies of scale that would heap savings upon us. squarepeg1Streamlining never proved to be as easy as all that as we now know a decade and a half on.

And I seem to remember something about amalgamation being revenue neutral. The province would download some services and programs and upload others, specifically our educational system. We wouldn’t notice a thing.

That too didn’t quite turn out to be true. As Matt Elliott points out in his 2013 budget analysis, the megacity is still waiting for the province to reclaim some $400 million in costs the Harris government placed on Toronto’s ledger. This year we’re being relieved of about $14 million of that. A rate which, if continued as is, should eliminate the imbalance in just another 30 years. Combine that with the fact two successive provincial governments have shirked their duty to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating costs and you might conclude that this whole amalgamation could’ve gone a whole smoother if the city hadn’t been left fighting over the crumbs left on the table by Queen’s Park.

I will, however, agree with John Sewell that the yoinking of the Metro level of government in the amalgamation process also has contributed mightily to our currents woes. Having only one elected official representing the entire city can lead to some sort of binary dynamic. If a mayor doesn’t possess something of a broader view of things, then it’s simply about pitting councillors’ interests against each other and herding until you get 22 of them on side. It’s not about reaching a consensus as much as it is pounding square pegs into round holes until they sort of fit.

A wider, broader and longer perspective is needed. That’s not going to be accomplished by de-amalgamating. turtleinshellThe city needs to recreate a metro like body with more councillors elected on a city-wide basis, free from simply ward-by-ward interests. Exactly what that make-up would be is for another post entirely. Suffice to say, there are better ways to build bridges in this city then re-fracturing in a vain attempt to recapture past magic.

The reality we need to accept right now is that amalgamation signalled the province no longer wanted to work as anything resembling equal partners with this city. They wanted a pliable entity that would fight amongst itself, fight with the wider region and not cause too much trouble politically. How else to explain Ontario Liberal leadership hopeful Sandra Pupatello’s ‘too Toronto’ Canadian Club comment?

In one fell swoop, she took a pot shot at the entire GTA and threw Niagra into the mix. I mean, who else aside from Sandra Pupatello sees PC leader Tim Hudak as ‘too Toronto’? “… there’s a whole big province out there,” she said, almost as if it were a threat.

Such obstreperousness from the province will not effectively be countered by reverting back to smaller, pre-amalgamated entities. onecityIn fact, we need to be looking much broader in order to defend our interests. This is no longer simply about East York versus North York. No, no, no, no. It’s not even urban versus suburban now.

This is about city building on a regional level. That can’t be done by popping our heads back into our shells, hoping this has all been some horrible fifteen year nightmare, a socio-political experiment gone wrong. It’s the future, baby. Let’s embrace it and figure out a way to make it work to our collective advantage.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


There’s A Better (Ballots) Way

November 24, 2011

I am not prone to giddy bursts of optimism. Like most of us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, my predilection tends more in the other direction. Bouts of downward fear and loathing that intersect dangerously often with paranoia. The office windows are almost always open to air out the toxic atmosphere.

But put me in a room full of enthusiastic voting reformers and I am over the moon, Up With People, Schweppes bubbly effervescent, that veritable ant that could move the rubber tree plant. So it was last night at the Oakham House on the Ryerson University campus for a Better Ballots get together, Thinking Ahead to 2014: Taking A Critical Look at Local Elections. Colour me activist. I’m thinking, teal-ish?

In short, this: Local Choice.

I am a firm believer that the desultory relationship we have with our politics and politicians boils down to one key element. It’s how we vote (or don’t for far too many of us) and elect our representatives. At the federal and provincial levels, the whopping majority of us don’t wind up voting for the ultimate winners. Right now in Ottawa, the party which less than 4 in 10 voters voted for now controls more than 50% of the seats in parliament. Each and every day they enact, pronounce and dictate in matters that a solid majority of Canadians don’t agree with.

That’s not a partisan statement. Here in Ontario, there hasn’t been a provincial government in power that more than 50% of voters cast their ballots for in nearly 75 years! How can that not sour our relationship with those who govern us? Don’t look at me. I didn’t vote for the guy. Yes, I said ‘guy’. Why? Because in our first past the post system, the status quo is usually maintained. Thus, the continued preponderance of doughy white guys in the corridors of power.

The list is long of ideas to reinvigorate our political process. In townhall gatherings last year, the Better Ballots folks winnowed down suggestions to 14 (pages 18 and 19), ranging from moving election days to weekends, introducing phone and internet voting, municipal parties and term limits. At last night’s session, the emphasis was on 4 areas: ballot or voting structure, extending voting rights to permanent residents, lowering the voting age to 16 and campaign financing.

My particular bailiwick happens to be how we vote. Over the next little while, I’ll be regularly writing on the subject of various voting systems, trying to figure out which one would fit best at our municipal level. The overarching theme will be that the first past the post system has got to go.

Based on the strength of last night’s presentations, lowering the voting age is also very intriguing. William Molls at Voteto16.ca made a highly entertaining and persuasive case. As did Leonardo Zúñiga of iVote Toronto in talking about extending voting rights to permanent residents. Both ideas couldn’t but help to reinvigorate the political process. The more people don’t have the right vote, the less politicians will feel the need to reach out to them and the less reason these people will be have to actively participate.

Bob MacDermid had the rather unfortunate task of pointing out our continued problems with campaign financing that inevitably favours those with money and those with influential friends with money. Vote Toronto does yeomen’s duty trying to keep on top of this byzantine business but it is a multi-headed monster that constantly shifts and morphs, always to the advantage of those with deep pockets. It seems that vested interests just don’t think that there should be a level playing field in our elections.

Which also explains why it is so hard to change what is so obviously broken. The status quo is a stubborn beast, made even more stolid by those who’ve expertly learned how to work the ref in the game. Any sort of change threatens the standard operating procedure. It is fought tooth and nail.

That’s why more of us have to get involved. Some of these proposals Toronto can enact on its own but others need a provincial go-ahead to happen. That’s two levels of politicians who have won under the current system, so may not be overly enthusiastic to altering something they’ve already mastered. (Hat tip should go out to councillors Shelley Carroll, Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam for coming out to the event and showing their support.) Much pressure must be brought to bear to get this conversation going and put the wind in change’s sails.

It is change that is tantalizingly close and many of these ideas are easily implemented if a critical mass can be achieved. Grab an issue that catches your fancy. Talk to those already involved, see what you can do to chip in and help. If you’re like a majority of Canadians and Torontonians and don’t like the way the game of politics is played, demand change. If we change how we elect our politicians, we may start changing who we elect, and if we change who we elect, there’s every reason to expect we’ll change how politics is played. For the better.

activistly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Fringe Candidates

August 17, 2011

There was much talk around these offices last fall as the municipal election campaign wound down toward its ugly, ugly conclusion. Strategic voting or mark an X with your heart, or simply pack up and head somewhere more reasonable for the following 4 years. (Have you been reading Toronto Life again? — ed.) How best to try and stop the Ford juggernaut? Don’t go getting all high and mighty with me, mister. Splitting the left of centre vote will only help his cause. Yes, I do think there are fewer worse case scenario’s than the prospect of a Mayor Rob Ford.

In the end, none of it mattered. Our current mayor won with a big enough plurality that nearly all of the 3rd place finisher Joe Pantalone voters would’ve had to throw in their lot with the eventual runner-up, George Smitherman, to overtake the frontrunner. Smitherman simply had not made that possible. (Nor are we convinced Toronto would be faring any better under a Smitherman mayoralty. A big sigh of relief from residents followed by a slow, perhaps even imperceptible bleed, rather than a gashing head wound. — ed.)

My Pantalone vote sat OK with me. I was not a displeased Torontonian under the Miller administration and Pantalone, despite his underwhelming campaign style, made the case that the city was on the right track. Or, if not on the right track, hadn’t derailed as all the other leading candidates for the office claimed. Certainly, 10 months after the fact, his accusations of the other leading candidates being mini-Mike Harris’s, bent on re-configuring Toronto into another Buffalo or Detroit has something of a ring to truth to it. Oh, the mockery and derision Pantalone received from the others for his scare-mongering. Rob Ford ‘guaranteed’ no such thing would happen under his watch.

My colleague here felt no such peace of mind in defeat. His candidate for mayor, HiMY SYeD, to whom he felt far greater attachment to than I did toward Joe Pantalone, not only lost but lost big. Crushed. 31 of 40 bidders for mayor with a paltry .071% of the popular vote. The very definition of a fringe candidate.

Few folks here were surprised about the outcome. Despite a huge social network presence, Mr. SYeD failed to get himself included in any of the countless debates. Any press he did manage to garner came with the ‘fringe’ adjective attached. Expectations of some sort of Nenshi miracle were nothing short of delusional. (Yeah, alright. We get your point. — ed.) To vote for HiMY SYeD; to waste your vote. (I said we get it. Is that really a proper use of a semi-colon? — ed.)

Yet, as I sat watching Mr. SYeD’s deputation at last month’s marathon Executive Committee meeting, I began to wonder about the ‘fringe’ designation. Certainly he was only one of countless Torontonians who delivered passionate, articulate, highly informed presentations to committee members who almost all possess none of those attributes. Passion maybe, but not toward city building so much as city shredding. These were the candidates deemed worthy of serious consideration and here they were, being schooled on what makes a city work.

Think back over the antics and shenanigans on display by many of these councillors during the course of the last 10 months. Giorgio Mammoliti? By any measure except for electoral success, he should be thought of as a fringe candidate. Doug Ford? Only someone out on the fringes would have the ease to say the things that come out from his mouth. Didn’t Councillor Cesar Palacio express surprise at how little rent the city was charging some Toronto Community Housing tenants? How long does one have to be in office before learning the first thing about social housing? 6 months? 6 years? Or at least possess a sense of self-awareness that edits such obliviousness before you can send it along for public consumption.

And Mayor Ford himself. A career long fringe councillor, unable to get along with almost all of his colleagues for a decade and still woefully unsure just how municipal government works. Nothing he has done since assuming office has alleviated the feeling that he has no idea what he’s doing except for an ability to bully through his fringe ideas. If it wasn’t obvious before the election (It was. — ed.) it is painfully on display now that he is frighteningly out of his depth. We handed over the keys to City Hall to a fringe candidate.

We obviously need a new definition for the word ‘fringe’. Perhaps devising a means test for anyone seeking elected office. It should start with the question: Do you believe that there is a positive role for government in society. No yes or no responses please. Answers must be longer than can fit on a bumper sticker.

It would assist us in determining who is a fringe candidate and not leave it in the hands of some arbitrary adjudicator. (Yes, we’re looking at you, CityTV — ed.) Being fringe shouldn’t be about who you don’t know or how much money you don’t have access to. It’s ideas that count, and true fringe candidates are always incapable of coming up with any good ones of those. (Like I was saying all last year. — ed.)

houndedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat