Our Real Democratic Deficit

To argue yesterday’s city council vote was some sort of subversion or denial of democracy is ohpleasesimply 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.

Ward 3 was declared vacant yesterday, August 26th. So, a by-election it should be. questionsThat was my opinion going into the council meeting.

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).

Things aren’t so clear cut, are they?unsure

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. democracydeniedNor 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. bullhornVote 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.

shrugThink about that for a second.

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.

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True Believers

Sitting in the auditorium of Silverthorn Collegiate in Etobicoke last night, taking in Mayor Rob Ford’s community meeting called to discuss the Ward 3 vacancy created by long time councillor Doug Holyday’s election as MPP earlier this month, I caught a glimpse of the mayor’s fabled populist appeal. It was ever so fleeting but had long eluded me. This is what people, the folks, see in him!

He was explaining the process that had to be adhered to by council and city staff in filling a vacancy mid-term. It’s not overly complicated but it is an either/or scenario involving many if this-es, then that-es. Details, more or less, outlining the different procedures to be followed if choosing between a city council appointment of a new Ward 3 councillor or a by-election for the voters to select one.

It’s territory the mayor isn’t overly interested in, the small picture stuff. Nevertheless, he’d called the meeting so he soldiered through the small print, explaining how both situations would work. boringHe mumbled, hummed and hawed, checked his notes frequently, circled back to repeat something he’d already covered. The whole thing was as torturous for him, evidently, as it was for the audience to sit through.

But here’s the thing. He didn’t try and pretend it was anything other than that. A boring bunch of bureaucratic business he had to go through to set the stage for the rest of the meeting. This was no smooth operator with any glib condescension to the audience. The mayor made no attempt to hide the fact that he didn’t understand things any better than most of the audience.

My a-ha! moment.

The mayor’s just like us.aha

He has a complete and utter lack of guile. How else to explain that one minute he assured everybody that he was going to be neutral at the meeting about hearing everyone’s opinion and 7 minutes later state that “You can’t put a price on democracy” in responding to concerns over the cost of a by-election? “I am trying to be as unbiased as I can be here, folks but…”, hey, that’s just not the mayor’s style.

And the thing is, I think he actually believed it. Just like he actually believed that if the room came out in favour of appointing someone to replace Doug Holyday, he’d go to City Hall on Monday and vote for an appointment. He’s not there to represent his views, he assured the crowd. He’s there to represent their views, the taxpayers’ views.

Never mind that by the meeting’s end he’d somehow come to the conclusion that 70% of the people in Ward 3 wanted a by-election by judging the applause, I guess. allaboutyouEven before counting the pink straw ballots that had been handed out for the audience to mark down their preference, he had already concluded that a by-election was the way to go. But I think he truly believed it was the audience’s decision that sealed the deal for him.

There was no question in my mind as well that a majority of those in attendance at the meeting wanted a by-election. 70%? I’d actually want to count hands at least before offering up any firm number. But certainly more than half of the 100 people or so who came out last night were vocal in stating that preference. Give the mayor his number, 70 people in a ward of over 50,000 people wanted a by-election as the means of getting a new councillor. So, a by-election the mayor will vote for next week.

He will do so, not because that’s his opinion, but the opinion of the people of ward 3.

I don’t think there’ll be one moment during Monday’s debate on the issue that the mayor will think otherwise. He wants a by-election because the people of ward 3 in Etobicoke want a by-election. innocentBecause you can’t put a price on democracy. Because if a new councillor is chosen by council appointment, somebody from Scarborough, of all places, (there was a surprising anti-Scarborough sentiment running through the discussion last night), might be picked to represent ward 3 Etobians. Democracy denied.

None of the push for a by-election on Mayor Ford’s part has anything to do with ensuring his administration gets another rock solid loyalist in the mold of Doug Holyday. Having lost enough allies to already seriously undermine his ability to steer the agenda, he can’t afford to allow any further erosion. One more undependable vote at council won’t help his cause going into an election year.

His preference for a by-election has absolutely nothing to do with his love of campaigning. That’s not what this is about at all. hiddenagendaIt’s about representing the wishes of the people of Etobicoke down at City Hall. It’s not about the mayor’s political survival. It’s about democracy.

I’m convinced Mayor Ford really and truly believes that. It’s what makes him come across as genuine, as a straight shooter, down to earth and not just some slick professional politician. Only cynics would see him as calculating, delusional even.

Those still supporting the mayor support him because they still believe he’s looking out for their best interests. They believe it because the mayor still believes it.

That’ll be a real tough nut to crack.

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The Wrong Fight For The Wrong Reason

So the 5 Ontario summer by-elections are over, and the ruling Liberal party has been humbled vindicated ignored tickertapeand nothing has changed everything has changed oh, I’m sorry, there were by-elections at Queen’s Park.

The Liberals remain in power and voters are now demanding an immediate general election praying to god we don’t have to go through such a depressing experience again for at least a few months couldn’t care a less.

What we do know, here in this city is that Mayor Ford and his councillor-brother Doug campaigned hard did as much work as they normally do for the winning losing Progressive Conservative party candidate in Etobicoke-Lakeshore Doug Holyday in particular, and the provincial PCs in general. The Tories remain in opposition, emboldened deflated by the results of the by-election, in no more control of the situation in the legislature than they were before the campaigns began. The fate of the government is still in the hands of rewritingthe NDP Green Party who stunned everyone by winning all five by-elections yesterday.

As the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat pointed out, the mayor really made no friends with the Liberals over the course of the last month or so, despite having a mutual love of subways. He took shots at them at every opportunity and made awkward kissy noises with the NDP in a naked attempt to promote vote splitting in the non-Tory vote. You see, Mayor Ford is a dyed-in-the-wool Progressive Conservative. That’s his team. The original blue, folks.

Party Family comes first for politicians like Rob Ford. The job he was elected to do merely an outcome, a result of his politics. Besides, as we’ve learned over the course of the last 3 and a half years, the mayor much prefers campaigning to actually governing. There are no responsibilities like keeping your promises, no consequences to not doing so. It’s just about winning or losing. All so simple. Just like football. Or hockey.

But in this particular game, there are implications to the mayor so blatantly taking sides.

What now of the extra $400 million he’s looking to the province for to build his Scarborough subway? bloodsportWhat possible reason would they have to play nice with him? If they took it on the chin yesterday especially to the PCs benefit, I’m pretty sure the post-mortem isn’t going to be they were not Rob Ford-friendly enough. They lost because their own supporters failed to show up, unimpressed with many things but certainly none of them had to do with being too unfriendly to our mayor.

And if the Liberals weren’t knocked back on their heels? If Tim Hudak’s PC party didn’t step up and assume its predicted rightful position as government in waiting? If our mayor was capable of any sort of self-awareness, well, oops.

Not only did he get all in the face of the government at Queen’s Park to no particular end aside from them being Liberal, it’s not far-fetched to think the mayor’s also further entrenched divisions at City Hall. What self-respecting Liberal sitting on council could now honestly believe that it’s anything other than the mayor’s way or the highway in terms of working with him? This isn’t news but it certainly should be a reality by now.disloyal

Card carrying Liberal party member Peter Milczyn has voted along with Mayor Ford more than 32 other councillors. On almost 9 out of every 10 big ticket issues as tracked by Matt Elliott, Councillor Milczyn backed the mayor, and for what? He’s a great guy, been a great chair of the… Planning and Transportation Planning and Growth Management Committee but, the mayor still very, very visibly campaigns against him.

Frankly, had Councillor Milczyn previously shown any evidence of possessing a backbone, I’d fully expect him to tender his resignation tomorrow morning today as chair of the…. Planning and Transportation Committee and member of the mayor’s Executive Committee. Mayor Ford and his brother showed the councillor absolutely no respect, refusing to simply stand this one out to allow two strong allies to battle with no outside intervention from the Ford family. losingticketBut with the 2014 municipal election just around the corner and Ford Nation lurking somewhere in the weeds out there…

Toronto should feel as equally betrayed by Mayor Ford who put party allegiance before his duty to represent the best interests of the city he was elected to lead. He’s declared himself an enemy of the provincial government who doesn’t appear now to be going away anytime soon. Wrong horse backed, we’re now all going to be paying for our mayor’s losing bet.

to showly submitted by Cityslikr