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

January 8, 2014

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


Everybody Get Happy

November 28, 2013

Early on in Charles Montgomery’s Happy City (page 6 to be exact), happycitythe author quotes former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa, speaking at the 2006 World Urban Forum:

“If we defined our success just in terms of income per capita, we would have to accept ourselves as second or third-rate societies – as a bunch of losers,” he said. No, the city needed a new goal. Peñalosa promised neither a car in every garage nor a socialist revolution. His promise was simple. He was going to make Bogotans happier.

“And what are our needs for happiness?” he asked. “We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.”

Over the past 3+ years, there has been plenty of head-scratching and analysis over and of this thing that has been labelled Ford Nation. Much of it has been very good (most recently from Naheed Mustafa in The Atlantic – h/t @GerardDiTrolio for the link and Marco Chown Oved in The Toronto Star – h/t @CTBNFG for that link).

But if I may be so bold, allow me to put it all under one big umbrella, using Enrique Peñalosa’s words. fordnation“We need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.”

Being part of Ford Nation, from a political standpoint, could be viewed as an exercise in inclusion. For the first time in at least seven years, if not since amalgamation, hundreds of thousands of residents, mainly in the surrounding former suburban municipalities of Toronto, felt there was somewhere they had a voice, exerted some power. Rob Ford was their mayor. David Miller was our mayor. It was their turn now. Equality.

Never mind, for the moment, that many of the policies Team Ford would pursue once in power ran contrary to some of the issues that exacerbated the sense of isolation and exclusion, i.e. cutbacks in programs and services, reductions in public transit. Pocketbook politics are strong. For over 3 decades now, conservatives have sold us a bill of goods that more money in our pockets was all we needed to make our lives better. longwaitforabus1It’s a tough rhetorical nut to crack. To paraphrase a wise politico, sometimes that elderly lady has to start wondering why her bus taking her to church on a Sunday morning now comes every half hour when it used to be only 15 minutes before you can convince her that freezing property taxes does have an effect aside from simply saving a bit of pocket change.

Ford Nation is the face of people wanting in, wanting to be heard if not wanting to directly participate in the civic life of the city where they live.

It’s not enough to simply tsk, tsk, tsk, rant in an alleyway and slap our foreheads in wonder at how these people can support a guy who’s clearly not acting in their best interests. Ford Nation is a vehicle for both a collective frustration and, I hope and think, a demand for inclusion in the decision making of this city. scoldForget the reckless driver who’s behind the wheel. That’s ultimately unimportant. It’s the vehicle we need to take notice of.

If we’re truly concerned about the direction our city’s going, of the well-being of all its residents, we have to recognize what the members of Ford Nation saw back in 2010. The status quo is not working. We need to figure out why that is and how to go about trying to address it.

That calls for a positive reassessment not finger-wagging, blame-naming and nay-saying. We need a bus load of ideas, big and small, with a wide open door policy where anybody who wants to, contributes. Point the thing in the direction we want to go, along the surest route we think will get us there, aware that there’s always going to be detours ahead, and invite everybody who’s interested aboard.

It’s time we started talking about what we want from the city we live in not with everything we don’t like about it. Can’t, won’t, no no no, is the language of division and exclusion. Here’s what I’d like to see. magicbusHow about you? is the way we talk when we’re seeking other opinions, when we want to be inclusive, when we actually care what other people think, even those we think we know better than.

Toronto won’t work unless it works for everybody. There’s no easy fix for that. Consensus building is the only way forward to that goal. True consensus can only happen when everyone’s voice is heard and treated equally. That’s where solutions start.

happily submitted by Cityslikr