Assessing Our New Mayor’s Movement

November 23, 2010

As we breathlessly await firm news of Mayor-elect Rob Ford’s committee appointments, I am trying to convince myself to look upon this not as a horrible, disfiguring moment in the city’s history but as…an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity. It isn’t a matter of perspective. No, it’s what kind of conservative our incoming mayor turns out to be.

Kinds of conservatives, you ask? How many kinds of conservatives are there? You’ve got your run-of-the-mill, always irate, incoherent kind, flailing about in the choppy, churning waters of cognitive dissonance and then there’s…? Help me out here. Other kinds of conservatives?

Well yes, at least in theory. There once were conservatives roaming about in the wild who were of Burkean stock. Wary of excess of any stripe including rabid anti-governmentalism, your daddies’ conservatives did not seek to dismantle the New Deal/Just Society welfare state in its entirety. They simply wanted to reshape it in their own vision. Red Tories, let’s call them. These guys were the elitists of their time. Democracy was all well and good as long as there wasn’t too much of it.

Movement Conservatives, on the other hand, the spawn of William F. Buckley-Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher, are a lot less amiable. Theirs is “a revolutionary doctrine hostile to any public enterprise except the military” and, I will add, national security except for that whole no junk touching stream of unconsciousness that has recently emerged. They have manifested themselves in the likes of George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and, to some extent, our current federal Conservative government. There is no form of government that doesn’t drive them batty with inchoate anger. To their minds, democracy is merely a vehicle to smash up democratic institutions.

Much was made during this past municipal campaign about Rob Ford being our very own Tea Bagger, a bigger, louder, less foxy Sarah Palin. It’s a comparison that goes only so far. Yes, he was angry and adeptly tapped into, exploited and manufactured a wide swath of anger in the electorate. He made claims of reclaiming City Hall for the little guy. A deep streak of xenophobia, homophobia and misogyny runs through his core.

Yet, like the earlier strain of conservatism, Rob Ford seems more driven to eradicate government excesses rather than government itself. In fact, he may be prone to more democratic impulses than is normal in conservatives of any stripe. When he says he wants to take back City Hall, it is largely free of the racist, faux-grassroots chant we heard during the U.S. midterm election campaign. Ford actually sounds like an honest to god populist in wanting to give the reins of power to the people instead of his hated bureaucracy. (The irony of this is that the last thing his most fervent devotees would want or know what to do with is to actually exercise that power.)

Therein lies the opportunity at hand. On Metro Morning last week to promote the book Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto, Dave Meslin told host Matt Galloway how, back in 2006, when Meslin was involved with the City Idol project that sought to shine a spotlight on a diverse set of council candidates, then councillor Rob Ford was very helpful in giving his time and advice to the proceedings. Ford’s face now adorns the endorsement page of Meslin’s latest adventure in advancing democracy, RaBIT, Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. By all accounts, our next mayor is fully on board for helping further the cause of democratic renewal.

So, fighting our way past the recoil phase of October 25th’s fallout, we can prepare to seize what may be a truly golden moment for positive change on the democratic front. A politician elected to office who truly wants to invest more powers in the populace. It is a gift we should be ready to receive and not allow him to renege on or get horribly wrong (i.e. simply cutting council numbers in half). This may be the only common ground we find with this administration. Let’s not waste the opportunity to take full advantage of it.

exhortingly submitted by Cityslikr


PR PR

November 22, 2010

Lazily listening to the CBC’s Sunday Edition (at 40’15” of hour 2) yesterday morning, I found myself out-lazied by the show’s host, Michael Enright, during his segment on proportional representation in our voting system. “One of the reasons the public campaign to switch to proportional representation has never gained steam is that it’s about as simple to explain as quantum physics. And boring as well,” Enright opined.

Your public broadcaster at work, folks, shining a light of knowledge seeking into the dark recesses of our democracy. From such a promising premise, the segment then presented two 30 second (or so) ‘commercials’ that attempt to sell the idea of proportional representation. The supposition being, of course, that if you can’t sell an idea to the public in 30 seconds, what’s the sense in trying.

The concept of proportional representation is actually pretty simple and easy to explain. Here’s one from the group Fair Vote Canada: When each vote has equal value, election results are proportional. A party that receives 40% of the votes will receive close to 40% of the seats in the legislature, not 60% or more. A party which receives 20% of the votes will win close to 20% of the seats, not 10% or none at all.

How a democracy goes about implementing such a system is, admittedly, a little more complicated than merely defining it but hardly insurmountably so. That is, unless a democratic institute like, say, the Liberal led provincial government at Queen’s Park saw no benefit to its own electoral well-being by bringing in proportional representation, and deliberately muddied the waters of understanding in the referendum it presented to voters on the issue, thereby sinking whatever prospects it had under a wave of self-interest. Over 80 countries around the world already operate under some variation of proportional representation, and just because the perpetually sad-sack Italy is one of them does not mean the system cannot work.

My suggestion here is to begin with baby steps, and hell, it isn’t even truly proportional representative! Let’s begin the push to have a ranked ballots system for Toronto in time for the next municipal election. Once we get used to voting that way and see how invigorating an experience it can be, it’ll pave the way toward demanding actual proportional representation at the provincial and federal levels with what’s called a Single Transferable Vote.

Ranked ballots (or Instant Runoff Voting [IRV] or Ranked Choice Voting or Alternative Vote or Preferential Ballots), you say. What’s that?

Well, RaBIT does a much more thorough job explaining it but, the short version, a ranked ballot system ensures that candidates must be elected with no less than 50% of all votes cast. Voters are given the chance to list their candidate preference for a particular office, 1st, 2nd, 3rd. If someone wins 50% or more of the vote, they are declared the winner and the election is over. However, if no one receives more than 50% the candidate with the least votes is eliminated from the race…If your preferred candidate is eliminated from the race, your vote is automatically transferred to your second choice. Again, the votes are counted and if someone has a majority, they are declared the winner. If not, another candidate eliminated and it repeats until there is a majority winner. This is all done without voters having to re-vote as happens during leadership conventions. One vote albeit, 1, 2, 3 in order of preference for each office that you’re casting a ballot for.

Like I said, ranked ballots aren’t true proportional representation and work much better at a party-less municipal level like we have in Toronto. Chances are, Rob Ford with 47% of the vote would’ve become mayor even under a ranked ballot system. But only 23 of our 44 councillors won their wards with over 50% of the vote with some truly eye-poppingly low numbers among those who didn’t. 25% for Gary Crawford in ward 36. 28% for Kristyn Wong-Tam in ward 27. 27% for Frank Di Giorgio in ward 12. 19% for James Pasternak in ward 10!!! Not to mention the handful of other council races that were settle by mere percentage point with the winner pulling in just 40% of votes.

That’s not representative democracy. That’s… disgraceful, is what it is. It breeds disregard for the will of the people, makes them contemptuous of a process that needs to be inclusive and participatory. Simply settling for our ingrained first-past-the-post method of electing candidates because anything else is too complicated or boring to contemplate reveals a hollowness at the core of citizenship. If we can’t be bothered to do our part in shoring up democracy, how dare we expect those we elect to do or be any better.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr