Is There A Term Limit On The Idea Of Term Limits?

It’s understandable if woefully misguided.

A new municipal election campaign is upon us. sighThe current term of city council has left something of a vinegary taste in the mouths of many. Raucous. Dysfunctional. Divisive. Destructive. Counter-productive. Pick an adjective to describe the past 3 years at City Hall. Few of them are positive.

So in a desperate search for solutions, we lash out, grasping at straws. How do we fix this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into? As with all of life’s complex problems, there’s got to be an easy way out of this.

Hence we’re suddenly talking about term limits again. Upon registering her intention to run for re-election as councillor for Ward 32 Beaches-East York, first termer Mary Margaret McMahon vowed, if victorious this October, her second term in office would be her last. It was a pledge she apparently also made back in 2010 when she first ran for a council seat.

“I always tell people,” Councillor McMahon told the Toronto Star, “this is public service, it’s not a career.”

Why?!

What happens if somebody is particularly good at being a politician? brightideaAnd I don’t mean that in the sense of playing at politics, being good at the game of politics. What’s wrong with somebody being good at the job of representing the public doing it as long as they want, as long as constituents continue to vote them back into office?

For me, term limits weirdly award bad behaviour. It is driven by the desire to rid public office of all the deadwood deadweight representatives we perceive to be clogging up the system and can’t seem to boot from office any other way. Help us before we re-elect this terrible politician again! We’re painting all politicians with the same brush.

It is a passive attempt to alleviate a dynamic problem of voter disengagement especially at the municipal level.

Ironically, in this case, it’s being pushed by a councillor who dumped a high profile, four term incumbent and outgoing speaker of council straight up. Trounced her, in fact. An ‘anomaly’, according to the Star, although Councillor McMahon was one of five challengers in 2010 to defeat incumbents. So please pay no attention to that particular working of the democratic process.

Both Councillor McMahon and the editorial in the Star calling for term limits insist they will promote diversity at council. emptygestureMore youth. More visible minorities. More women.

That would be great if true but I really would like to see their evidence.

Besides, I think there may be better, more active ways to try and increase engagement and involvement, starting with electoral reform like the ranked ballots initiative now sitting in limbo at Queen’s Park. Name recognition wouldn’t be such an overwhelming factor if voters, even those only passingly interested, had an opportunity to express their preference over, say, 3 candidates. You might take a flyer on a lesser known entity without fear of wasting your vote.

Even more so, you want to increase ethnic diversity on council? Extend the vote to permanent residents who already have a stake in what happens in their city. See what happens then.

But it’s also got to go beyond just elections.

Term limiters seem to think that the only way in which we can get involved in the political process is to run for office. In the end, a politician, regardless how good or bad a one, is only one person. That leaves pretty much everybody else on the outside, waiting their turn to run for office.

If Councillor McMahon truly wants to increase public engagement, why doesn’t she dedicate her efforts to expanding the role of the public’s participation at the community council level? barkingupthewrongtreeFight for ways to empower non-politicians in making decisions that affect them in their communities and neighbourhoods? There’s a push afoot for greater non-political involvement in budgetary matters. Get involved in that.

Not everyone was cut out to run for public office. Even if they were, there’d never be room enough for all at the table short of rotating out on a weekly or monthly basis. Being a politician is only a small part of our democracy. Let’s stop trying to jam everybody into that tiny box and, instead, figure out ways to increase the size of that box of civic engagement.

finally submitted by Cityslikr

A Term Limit On Dumb Ideas

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

The Caretaker

Through the window of the cafe in City Hall I spotted Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday standing out in the lunchtime chill in Nathan Phillips Square, patiently being interviewed by a television crew. Since the announcement of Judge Charles Hackland’s ruling in the mayor’s conflict of interest case, the deputy mayor has become the de facto face of the administration, issuing stay calm and proceed alerts as the city deals with an official leadership vacuum for the next couple months or so.  Not Winston Churchill in the face of the blitz but still, strangely assuring.

I have an oddly dichotomous opinion of the councillor from and last mayor of Etobicoke. In person whenever we cross paths, he is extremely courteous and gracious, always nods and exchanges greetings with me. I’m fairly certain he has no idea who I am, what I do or why I’m always hanging around his place of work. But I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t matter if he did. Colleagues of mine who have regular dealings with him and share more of my politics than his tell me the deputy mayor always makes himself available and is gentlemanly and cordial.

But then there is the Grandpa Simpson side of Doug Holyday that makes regular appearances on council floor or in a committee room during heated exchanges. Little Ginny. Remember her? That poor neglected child raised by negligent parents in a downtown high rise, destined to die an early death when she’s relegated to playing in the traffic or shoots off the slide on her roof top playground and plunges 95 stories to a bloodied splat on the ground below.

Why, just this week, under pointed questioning from Councillor Janet Davis about the uniformly male, uniformly suburban make up of the members of the mayor’s two most powerful committees, Executive and Budget, going forward in the terms second half. Look, the deputy mayor responded, he’d welcome more downtown councillors, would love to have more women on the team, if only they could get with the program and set aside any independent thinking.  When asked what his problem with entertaining more diverse opinions and views, he seemed nonplussed. Because… because DAVID MILLER! because BRIAN ASHTON! BRIAN ASHTON!!

In no way, shape or form could the deputy mayor be mistaken as anything other than a hardcore, fiscal conservative. No Red Tory is he. But it does seem that he is a more realistic assessor of the political situation in front of him. You don’t spend 125 years in politics, even politics in Etobicoke, and not know how to adapt to a change in the winds.

This is why I put forward the proposal that if Mayor Ford is really and truly put out to pasture, if his appeal in January to overturn Judge Hackland’s ruling falls upon deaf ears, that instead of plunging into a distracting and noisy by-election, city council designate the deputy mayor the actual mayor for the remainder of the current turn.

Believe me, this goes against every retributive instinct in my body. That scorched earth inclination to raze everything and anything reminiscent of Rob Ford’s time in office. A Northerner demands the South’s destruction not reconstruction.

Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Allow cooler heads to prevail.

Hear me out (and forgive me if any or all of the following suggestions contravene any statute of the City Of Toronto Act. I have not read it in its entirety. You see, back in the 1990s, my daddy was…)

There would be some serious stipulations in appointing Doug Holyday mayor. First, he could not run for re-election in 2014, using this appointment as a high profile platform. He might even consider this his municipal politics swan song.

Second, no coaching football or any equivalent activity to occupy his afternoons. Keep those crazy Kiwanis meetings to non-council meeting evenings, sir.

Third, a Mayor Holyday would remove Councillor Frances Nunziata from the Speaker’s chair, replacing her with the current deputy speaker, John Parker. Going forward, it’s important to restore a tone of civility and decorum during council meetings. Councillor Nunziata has proven herself incapable of providing such an environment during her tenure in the chair.

Next, a Mayor Holyday must share the job with council of completely overhauling the Striking Committee, appointing new members not because of their ideological loyalty but to reflect the diversity of council makeup.  In turn, such a Striking Committee would consider other committee appointments based on the same principle of diversity and inclusion. To try and lessen the whole us-versus-them mentality that has laid siege to City Hall.

On many of the committees, I don’t think there’d be the need for major renovations. A tweak here and there. Maybe flip a vice-chair to chair to bring a more bipartisan look to the Executive Committee. Say, a Councillor Chin Lee or Gloria Lindsay Luby replacing Councillor Cesar Palacio as Chair of the Licensing and Standards Committee. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon takes over for Councillor Norm Kelly as Chair of the Parks and Environment Committee.

There would be two deal-breaking change of appointments before Doug Holyday could take over as mayor. Both Councillor Mike Del Grande and Denzil Minnan-Wong must be relieved of duty from their respective committees. Along with Speaker Frances Nunziata, they are the most non-Ford divisive and destructive forces at council right now. To go forward with any hope of a constructive 2nd half of the term, these two – the Stadler and Waldorf of Toronto politics – must be relegated to where they belong. The backbenches of braying opposition where they’re only allowed to make noise and not a mess.

The final stipulation for a Mayor Holyday would the necessity of appointing a deputy mayor that was his polar opposite in political view, geography, gender and/or ethnicity. While I love the idea of a Deputy Mayor Janet Davis in a Mayor Doug Holyday regime, I think it would be ultimately unworkable, a sitcom in and of itself. So, how about a Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell? Yes, occasionally a Mayor Holyday’s head would explode in righteous indignation but, let’s be honest here. That’s going to happen regardless.

While the idea of such an unorthodox arrangement might run contrary to everything the straight-laced Holyday stands for, I think he could look upon this as his final and finest contribution to a long if not entirely distinguished career in public service. He could be the one who rose above partisan rancour to help heal the rift of a city divided. A grandfatherly figure dampening the heightened emotions of his unruly brood. Wisdom besting acrimony. Good will trumping ill.

And by reaching out this way, appointing the deputy mayor mayor, those currently in opposition in council would accomplish two things. The administration of a Mayor Holyday would be a tough one for Rob Ford or his brother to rail against during  their 2 years in exile. The inevitable campaign to recapture the mayoralty would lack satisfying target to shoot at.

The move would also acknowledge that the voters’ will from 2010 is not being denied. Doug Holyday was Rob Ford’s choice for deputy Mayor. By making him Ford’s replacement, there is some continuity, a peace offering.

If nothing else, what Toronto needs at this point is a little peace.

honest brokerly submitted by Cityslikr