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John Tory Wants to Be President of Toronto
21/02/2003
The final line of an online Toronto Star article about a John Tory speech in Ottawa reveals his desire to be appointed as an all-powerful American-style mayor of Toronto:
"One of the problems is that the present form of government is unwieldy," Tory said, adding that he would be in favour of setting up an executive level of city government with the permission of the province.
Whether or not John Tory would make a good mayor for this city, this idea is a bad one. He seems to be trying to solve the problems of this city with an amplified dose of the poison that has already made us sick. The Tories' forced amalgamation that created the new "megacity" Toronto was predicted to have a destructive effect on the efficacy of self-government in this city. Democracy has indeed suffered and City Hall is now less accountable, less approachable, less effective and less responsible. Former mayor John Sewell has written a good account of why this has happened:
The impact of fusion in Toronto on public accessibility has been devastating. Before amalgamation no local council was larger than 20 members. It was easy for a resident or a business person to contact councillors and make a presentation to council. But the new merged council had 58 [now 45] members, a size so big that one or two people effectively controlled the whole decision making process. The ability of one ordinary person to have access to an elected councillor decreased enormously as the size of wards expanded. The Mayor's office became the only place that had an effective control on decisions and most ordinary people have no access to the mayor, carefully shielded by a whole range of assistants. ... Second, council agendas have become totally overwhelming. They normally consist of 1,500 or 2,000 pages of material. Few councillors are able to read even half the material before them. Third, the great size of the megacity and the time it takes to travel from one end to the other means that few councillors are able to visit the sites affected by most decisions. A business applies for permission from the megacouncil, but most councillors are unable to visualize the business or the communities it serves or that are impacted by their decisions. Wards are so big - each wards has about 50,000 residents - that councillors are totally overworked and it is hard to get an appointment with them. If you want to get the attention of council you have to hire a lobbyist.
Tory's plan would make this situation worse by further politicizing decision-making in this city, and by removing it further from the people. In fact, as a February 13 John Barber column explains, the Lastman regime has been so miserable in part because it already resembles the US "strong mayor" model.
Many Torontonians loved Mayor Mel Lastman's first term in office. At last, they said, Toronto had the political leadership it needed; Mr. Lastman was no first among equals, no single vote of 50; he was a proper, U.S.-style "strong mayor." But we've only discovered what that means -- and what it costs -- in the hangover-like aftermath, with subpoenas flying everywhere and a once-proud civil service abject and humiliated. It's no coincidence that both investigations are focusing on the activities of two of Mel's wonder women: former treasurer Wanda Liczyk and, with Union Station, urban development commissioner Paula Dill. Both bureaucrats had built their careers by helping to implement Mr. Lastman's political programs in North York, and both continued to do the same when they rode his coattails to positions of high power downtown. ...The fact is that partisan civil servants -- hired by one set of political bosses, fired by the next -- are a basic feature of strong-mayor systems. But here, they're new. "In my day and well beyond it, the function of the civil service was to give their best professional advice, and that's all that was expected from them," former mayor John Sewell recalled. It was a system, he added, that resulted in "good, strong public debate." But now, according to Mr. Sewell, a commissioner's job is "to go to the mayor and say, 'What do you want on this one?' " In his view, a politicized civil service stifles debate and breeds a culture of secrecy.
Toronto doesn't need to further elevate its mayor. What it really needs is an accountable, representative, ethical government, with the powers to get things done. That, and enough of our own cash to pay the bills.
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