Close, But No Cigar!
…And No Hanging Chads Either.
The race that we just went through for President of Council was one of the strangest I’ve ever witnessed in this town of strange politics in all of my memory. I’m not saying that either candidate was either deserving or not deserving. Just that the race was peculiar. It was rife with strange bedfellows and hot-but-stifled tempers. The truth is, though, that neither candidate was really better for the office than the other, so it’s little wonder that the race was so close.
But is that the problem of the candidates or of those they would preside over as president? Let’s face it, in the past years, we’ve not had much of a pool to select from for council members as regards a get-it-done mentality. But I don’t fault the council members either. With a few possible exceptions, they tend to be people who are genuinely concerned with Toronto and her problems.
So what is the problem? Is it the mayor? No, I don’t think it’s the mayor. He’s a true champion of this hamlet. Is it the city staff? Well, maybe in the past we could blame it on dead wood in the appointed positions. Today, though, with the sole exception of ____ chief (I’ll leave that one to your imaginations) I think the city officials care about their jobs and the people they police – er – I mean serve. Is it state interference? Well, to a degree, it’s always state interference, but that can be worked around.
So – again – what is the problem? Why can’t a council president seem to get anything accomplished that’s of any significance? What is the root of the stagnation between a councilman’s ideas (any councilman’s ideas) and the necessary thrust of ambition to see it through?
Well, I hate to say it, but I think it’s us. We the constituency tend to hound these officials with our petty problems until they don’t know which way to turn let alone which way to vote. Take the situation with the school board in Hancock county as an example. They have seen the need to close a few elementary schools, but the parents are raising a stink and taking the situation to court over and over. Well, there’s obviously a problem, and while nobody likes to see a neighborhood school sitting idle, if the enrollment doesn’t justify the need to keep it running, it needs to be shut down.
How does this apply to Toronto? Think about it. Are there any issues that we need to see considered in Council that are going neglected because council is afraid to offend their constituents? I think there are. I alluded to one earlier. Another problem is our lack of area zoned for business. This will ever be a problem since nobody wants to see an industrial park out their back door and everybody is somebody’s constituent. This has actually resulted in them trying to consider the old Kaul Clay site (which is currently unsafe and inaccessible) when there is excellent and accessible land sitting idle just north of the city limits near Walton Acres.
These are just a few examples, but I think I’ve made my point. Wouldn’t it be nice if our candidates could run on a platform, and then (when elected) go into office with a mandate that they didn’t have to play politics with? Unfortunately, that’s the way our charter is set up, but I have a suggestion on how to fix it, and it involves the way we select council president.
Under the current system, council members run with their constituency’s needs in mind first and the city’s needs second. On the other hand, council president has to juggle the needs of the city against the needs of the separate precincts. I propose changing the way council president is selected.
What I propose is that the people be left out of that end of the process. We would elect council in the same old manner, then council would make secret ballot nominations for two people to run against each other for council president from amongst their ranks. After nominations were complete, they would vote and the mayor would vote as well. The winner would be the new council president, and he/she would then name somebody from his/her district to fill his/her seat as an appointed councilor.
I know I always prefer to work for a boss who has actually done my job in the past. And since the sitting president would be someone that a majority of council members have given the nod to, he or she will enjoy an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Either that, or term limits. But with term limits we’d soon run out of candidates who want to run let alone candidates qualified to do the job.