Hume: This is one Tory with a happy ending

Note the following comment on this article:

“Aside from the writer’s suggestion that Toronto should have political parties, this column is overly negative and defeatist. Opportunities abound, while hope and optimism should be encouraged by the media during this election campaign. While it is easy to find fault with Toronto’s political system and there are grossly unfair advantages given to incumbents, there are also many candidates sincerely looking for change. It is up to the voters of Toronto to bring these changes through the ballot box.”–hume-this-is-one-tory-with-a-happy-ending#comments


August 08, 2010

Christopher Hume

Does John Tory know something the rest of us don’t?

His decision not to run for mayor might strike many as odd, especially given that polls say he would win in October. But, he insists, he can do more for the city as a private citizen than as mayor of all the people.

If he’s right — and he most assuredly is — it must be because the state of civic politics in Toronto has reached a new low.

One need only look at the current mayoral election to see how low; regardless of who actually wins the race, there can be no doubt that Toronto is caught up in the politics of anger. The howls of outrage have drowned out the voice of sweet reason.

The most obvious example, of course, is the candidacy of Etobicoke’s Angry Man, Rob Ford, a politician armed with nothing more than a simple yet powerful idea to cut public spending. He’s the guy who will look out for our money. However straightforward that may sound, it’s anything but.

Unfortunately for politicians, things are seldom what they seem.

So far, Ford has managed to set the agenda throughout the campaign. The other front-runner, former Ontario deputy premier George Smitherman — a.k.a. Furious George — has been put on the defensive. It’s as if he, not David Miller, were the incumbent.

But on election day, all the sound and fury will signify little. If history is any indication, less than 40 per cent of Torontonians will bother to vote. In Mississauga, where Hazel McCallion has been mayor for more than three decades, turnout will be even lower. Typically, only about one quarter of eligible voters show up to cast a ballot.

These numbers, as appalling as they are, reveal the paradoxical relationship we have with city hall. Though it is the government with which we are most intimately connected, with which we deal daily, it is also the one to which we are most indifferent.

More than anything, perhaps, it is seen as the deliverer of the basic services we take for granted — garbage collection, street cleaning, pothole fixing, etc. By contrast, the issues that Ottawa and the provinces face tend to be more abstract, or at least less immediate. Everyone has strong feelings about the war in Afghanistan, but it directly affects very few.

Closer to home, we regard municipalities less as governments than as mere administrators, there to do our bidding. Generally, we don’t think about such matters until they go wrong. And because there are so many competing claims on the municipal pie, something always goes wrong.

Then there’s the absence of political parties, which means that councils lack the clear distinction between government and opposition. Toronto City Council consists of 45 warring players, not two, three or four blocs.

As Tory has obviously grasped, to be mayor is to have the worst of all worlds. His/Her Worship bears the blame when things go wrong, but has limited power to ensure they go right.

The fact that Toronto council is too large and dysfunctional means the mayor’s powers are even more compromised. And as the winner will discover, the province holds most of the cards anyway.

All we’re left with is a rising tide of anger that has swept across the city leaving us soaked in fear and loathing. We see corruption, crime waves and waste at every turn.

Tory has always been too nice a guy to indulge in that sort of tactic. It may help win a few votes, but it turns the rest of us into losers.


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