To argue yesterday’s city council vote was some sort of subversion or denial of democracy is simply a frank admission that you haven’t really thought much about the issue past headlines and rhetoric. An appointment decided by city council is as valid a process as a by-election, according to the rules. Appointments have happened seven times previously versus two by-elections. Timing is the key, and since no firm rules are in place about that, this remains a grey area.
Initially, protocol and precedent suggested for me that a by-election to fill Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre, vacated by Doug Holyday in his winning bid for a provincial seat, was the way to go. As the staff presentation pointed out, traditionally if a ward was declared vacant before November 30th a year before the next general municipal election, a by-election was called. After that date, an appointment was made in order to avoid having two elections so close to one another.
But it was Councillor Chin Lee who threw a little wrinkle into the proceedings. During his questions to the staff, he pointed out that the city hasn’t faced this situation since moving to a four year term. All the protocol and precedent was based on three years terms. A one year appointment was 33% of the total term. One third of council and committee meetings.
Now? A one year appointment is 25% of the term. If a by-election had been voted on, the new councillor would’ve been present for 8 council meetings. That’s about 16% of the 2010-2014 term council meetings (including the additional special meetings called).
Still, I would’ve been happy to see a by-election called with the promise to re-visit this matter again in order to recalibrate the parameters for a four year council term. But I’ll leave it to the likes of Councillor Lee to explain the outcome of the vote to any outraged voters. I’m just going to revel in witnessing the appointment process, especially since the likes of former mayoral candidate John Nunziata and former Harris cabinet minister and Doug Ford Sr. bester, Chris Stockwell already expressing interest in the position.
For his part, Mayor Ford did little to help the by-election cause at yesterday’s meeting. He’d been stumping for one almost as soon as it became obvious that an Etobicoke ward was going to be open come August 1st with two members of Toronto council vying for one provincial seat. It’s really the only thing he’s talked about over the summer.
But he wasn’t prepared to defend his preference beyond anything other than his standard slogans – You Can’t Put A Price On Democracy! – and stunt populism. The people of ward 3 want a by-election. He was simply doing their bidding, he told council over and over. Nor would he step back from a hands-on involvement in the by-election if one was called, fueling speculation that this was simply about him getting his election chops in fighting shape for 2014.
Unsurprisingly, the mayor displayed a complete lack of sway in the outcome of the vote.
The easy explanation is that he didn’t really care how the vote went. A vote for a by-election would be trumpeted as a victory for him democracy no, for him democracy. A loss, and council appointing a councillor for ward 3? Just a cudgel he could use during his official re-election campaign next year to beat the drum about the dysfunctional council undermining him and the democratic will of the people. Vote Ford and more Ford friendly councillors so the mayor can really get the job done!
At no time yesterday did you get the sense the mayor’s staff was working the room for votes. There appeared to be no behind the scenes arm-twisting or horse-trading. As I noted last week, aside from a couple official appearances and the community meeting he called about this issue, Mayor Ford was largely absent, certainly not stalking the corridors of City Hall in an attempt to win the vote at special meeting he himself called to deal with this matter.
Maybe that’s also because Mayor Ford has simply lost any ability whatsoever to influence council. He’s become a lame duck, in other words, with more than a year still to go in his first term. He bellows. The majority of councillors (comprising every point on the political spectrum, left-right, suburban-downtown) just shrug. There is no need to fear or even listen to him anymore.
A mayor calls a special meeting of city council to deal with a key item he seems to hold especially dear and doesn’t come close to winning the vote?
He either doesn’t care or is singularly inept at doing his job.
That’s really the take-away from council’s decision to appoint a successor to Doug Holyday in ward 3 rather than hold a by-election. “The worst thing for democracy”? How about a complete abandonment of leadership by the city’s elected leader.
— alternatively submitted by Cityslikr