Everything’s Fine!

These days, this council.

With the provincial government dangling the prospect of ballot reform, tantalizingly, and today’s announcement of the ward boundary review recommendation, giddywe here in Toronto should be giddy with excitement at the opportunity to reshape our local democracy. It’s something that hasn’t been done for 16 years since Queen’s Park pretty much unilaterally aligned all the city’s wards with the federal and provincial riding boundaries. So, we’re overdue, to make an understatement. Seize the moment to try and iron out some of the parochial wrinkles that have accumulated. Sweep out the dust bunnies and moldy odors that have collected in the cupboards.

It’s just… You know…

These days, this council.

With Councillor Justin Di Ciano, as city council’s woefully underwhelming representative, taking his anti-ranked ballots clownshow up University Avenue to speak to the standing committee overseeing voting reform initiatives, there’s some serious concern that Toronto voters won’t get a crack at using ranked ballots. dampenHell, if the councillor has his way, we’ll be robbed of even having a debate about it. His argument against moving from the current First Past The Post system is so full of shopworn bullet talking points, it’s impossible to tell what his real motives are with this antediluvian quest.

Equally unclear are the reasons our mayor, John Tory, seems determined to curtail debate on the ward boundary review ahead of the final recommendation going public. Earlier this year, when five possible new ward alignment options were outlined, he stated his position, which was pretty much as dismissive as you could be. “The last thing we need is more politicians.” Over this past weekend, his rhetoric had ossified into place, suggesting Mayor Tory hadn’t put so much as another thought into the matter.

I’ve maintained my position, which is, first of all, I don’t personally see the need for an expanded number of politicians, and secondly, I have yet to meet a Toronto citizen who has told me that their top priority — or any kind of priority of their’s — is to expand the number of politicians. I think we can make arrangements by reorganizing the boundaries a little bit.

The bottom line is I don’t think we need to have more decision makers at City Hall.

That there? That’s the sound of the door slamming on any sort of serious discussion about the size, shape or reorganization of city council. Maybe ‘a little bit’, John Tory’s incrementalism on full display. draggedIf it ain’t broke, amirite?

Rather than take the opportunity to show some civic leadership, and begin a discussion that might inject some new ideas and life into the governance structure at City Hall, Mayor Tory is intent on belittling the debate to nothing more than the number of councillors. Just like his predecessor did. As if numbers, and numbers alone, are the sole determinant of good, solid and proper political representation.

While it wasn’t part of the ward boundary review mandate to look at the structure of city council, the mayor and councillors could make it theirs, take the initiative and start talking about ways to improve how council functions, how to better represent the residents who’ve elected them to office. One of the biggest glitches plaguing governance in Toronto is the seemingly intractable urban-suburban divide that engenders division instead of cohesion. (Something I suspect is going to be a lightning rod of contention surrounding the ward boundary recommendation today.) Could a move toward at least some at-large, ward-free councillor positions help address that?

Maybe. Maybe not. It’s at least worth some sort of examination, isn’t it?notlistening

Whatever the outcome and final decision city council makes determining new ward boundaries, it’s going to be in place for the next 4 election cycles, 2018, 2022, 2026, 2030. During that time span, the city is projected to see huge population growth – 600,000 new residents by 2031 — and significant demographic changes. Is this Mayor Tory led city council really going to look at that and pursue a redrawing of wards only through the lens of a head count? Will it also brush aside the chance to give voters in the city a new way to elect its local politicians, maybe even in a new type of arrangement that might help reduce the type of harmful geographic divisiveness that has dogged it pretty much from the beginning of amalgamation?

You’d hope not but… well, you know…

These days, this mayor, this council.

same-ol’-same-olly submitted by Cityslikr

Ward Boundary Review — Take A Moment. Have Your Say.

Near the end of the last public session I attended of the first round of the city’s Ward Boundary Review earlier this year (Got that?), a young man (I’m old enough to use that term in a non-pejorative way) raised his hand to ask a question. wardboundaryreviewWill any of this really affect my life? More or less. I’d have to dig back in my archives to get the exact quote but it’s Monday, I don’t much want to. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.

It was a perfectly valid question. Of all the things we’re facing living in Toronto at this moment in history, are proposed changes to ward boundaries, the possible number to them, the number of city councillors we elect to represent us, all that important? Will it really affect the transit we build or the police budget we agree to? The wonk in me would immediately say Yes, yes, in fact, it would. But, that’s just the wonk in me.

Judging by the turnout for the 2nd round of public consultations over the course of this fall, I’d have to say most people resoundingly came down on the No side of the equation. How many wards we have, how they’re drawn up will have no effect on their respective lives. At least, nothing big enough to compel them out to participate in person.

Back during the 1st round, the weather was often cited for a reason turnout to public meetings wasn’t bigger. fakeglassesIt was winter. It was cold, dark.

This time around, I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but from the 4 meetings I attended, anecdotally I’d guess fewer people attended than previously, we were caught up in the prolonged federal election, the Blue Jays were in the middle of their amazing run. The weather was unseasonably warm! Who wants to spend time indoors, talking ward realignment, while the sun’s shining brightly and the temperature makes no socks demand on you?

I guess what I found unfortunate about our collective shrug at the process so far is that the city and the consultants it hired to conduct the public meetings, to write the reports, to make recommendations did their level best to engage with Torontonians. They listened intently to the feedback they received, incorporating it their report and recommendations. Their report after the 1st round of public sessions was highly readable, clear and precise. It cannot be claimed, as I heard from more than a few people after that report was issued, that the public had been kept in the dark. There was (and remains to be) plenty of opportunity for everyone to have their say.

Without broader public input, the ultimate decision makers on this, city council itself, will, not at all incorrectly, see a certain apathy on the matter and ultimately put its interests first, with only a possible Ontario Municipal Board appeal looking over its shoulders. slicingpieThe loudest voices will be the only ones heard, and those, from what I witnessed at the meetings, are largely older and white. Not exactly agents of change.

So I’m guessing when the 5 recommendations that are before the public during these 2nd round of consultations are winnowed done to just one early next year, it will be some variation of the minimal/no change options, either 44 or 47 wards. There seemed to be little appetite with the smaller, 58 wards options, mostly because that would mean more politicians. The bigger/fewer ward option also elicited very little support from the public at the meetings I attended.

The most intriguing option for me is the one that adheres to natural and physical boundaries. It received very little attention until the last couple meetings I was at. The reason I like it is that it reconfigures the entire city, setting aside long established ward boundaries and the community council structure arbitrarily imposed on us with amalgamation. Although I think there are too few wards (41) and a number of them are geographically imposing, I like the idea of re-designing a post-amalgamated Toronto. That would positively affect our lives, to answer the young man’s question.

Don’t agree with me?hitsend

Well, there’s still time for you to have your say. Online input is available all this week until November 15th. From the comfort of your very own desk, you can study the options that are on the table and give your opinion of what you’d like to see happen, even to the smallest detail. You can’t fight City Hall or, in this case, reshape it, without letting your opinion be known. If you’re reading these words, there’s really no excuse for you not to.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr

Democracy In Inaction

Round 2 of public meetings for the city’s Ward Boundary Review began last night, at a community centre near Dufferin and Eglinton Street. emptyroomAlong with 5 people from the consulting team conducting the review, a few minutes after the scheduled starting time, I was the only member of the public in the room. Not long after, a staffer for a councillor from a nearby ward appeared. A half hour or so later, a 3rd person showed up, another regular at the previous round of public consultations.

By the time everyone packed up to go home, about an hour into the proceedings, that was the full extent of the turnout. If this had been a theatre performance, where the cast numbers more than the members of the audience, the actors would have been obliged to take us out for drinks. Or so I am told.

At some point of time, the excuses get old.

I’m busy. It’s too far away. Wednesday’s are bad. The kids got soccer. I’m tired. Nobody told me.

makingexcusesFrom the very beginning of the public consultation outreach of this review, back last December, with 12 meetings, 3 in each of the city’s 4 community council areas, 2 weeknight sessions and 1 on Saturday, this has been a very open and transparent exercise, highly encouraging and supportive of public input and opinions. After round 1, an extremely readable and clear report was written, outlining the 5 options that were being put up for debate and the reasons why they were included while others weren’t. People were listened to and their opinions were factored into the report’s findings and decisions.

Kinda, sorta like we say we want to be governed.

Yet, there we were last night, 8 of us, all counted, 5 of whom were paid to be there, 6, I guess, if you count the councillor’s staffer.

The room was set up to accommodate, I don’t know, 50 people, say? I know the nuts and bolts of ward realignment are probably a little wonky, nerdy, so I wasn’t expecting a packed house although we were literally – and I don’t use that word figuratively here – we were literally discussing reshaping local democracy. boringSo, 10 interested members of the public maybe? It was a warm September night, for sure. (Last January it was too cold.) David Price was starting for the pennant seeking Blue Jays. (Last December was close to Christmas.)

But 2 people?

One of the consultants pointed out that nearly 400 people had filled out the online surveys. So there’s that, I guess. In a city of 2.6 million, you do the math on that.

Here’s what happens now.

The cranks (and I include myself in that grouping) get listened to. Listened to and, ultimately, ignored if our views are deemed to be unworkable. Hello, cutting council numbers in half cranks!

Politicians will look at the scenario, the abysmal public turnout except for the cranks, and conclude, rightfully so, it seems to me, that we just don’t give a shit. I mean, last night, the local councillor where the meeting was conducted, Josh Colle, Ward 15, didn’t even send an assistant to participate. uninterestedWhy bother wasting time when nobody else was willing to?

Politicians will then go about making a decision assuming, again, rightfully so, that it doesn’t really matter to most people. They wouldn’t be wrong, if turnout last night is anything to go by.  The people have not spoken. M’eh. Whatever.

We get the politics we deserve, I guess. And if our politicians show a propensity to serve only their own self-interests, do we have any right to complain? We certainly aren’t showing much interest in the business of politics.

self-righteously submitted by Cityslikr