I’ll say it again: two of the smartest fellas on #TOpoli.
I’ve already linked to JM’s thoughtful and well-argued piece, but for those of you who haven’t read it, it’s here.
It sparked a bit of Twittertalk last night (really sad, what passes for Saturday-night fun among #TOpoli tweeps), and while I won’t pretend I managed to capture the full discussion, I did note that it deserves a more thoughtful and considered response than the 140-character limit on Twitter allows.
Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler’s Facebook response, subsequently reproduced by John over at his place, is probably the most thorough rejoinder I’ve seen so far. Both these guys deserve thanks for a worthwhile contribution to the debate.
While JM suggests that the state we find ourselves in stems, in part, from the competing mandates accorded to the mayor on one hand and to individual city councillors on the other, I’m not so sure I’d go along with the conclusion he appears to draw: namely, that we’re in a crisis of governance, and that said crisis isn’t merely a function of personality, but of flawed institutional design. (JM, as always, if you think I’m misrepresenting your arguments, please feel free to post comments, on my Posterous space or my Tumblr or both. You have my word that they’ll be published.)
To some extent, we managed to expand on this last night, so I won’t try to recap it all. While I’m not so sure it’s a crisis – after all, we’re witnessing ad hoc coalitions of councillors finding ways to work around the mayor on various files – JM does make a valid point in suggesting that we can’t just dismiss the fact that any mayor’s going to have a much wider-ranging mandate than any individual councillor.
While it’s not exactly a revelation to note the dysfunctions inherent in the way municipal governance in Toronto works, JM’s post last night is noteworthy in that it doesn’t lay those dysfunctions expressly or exclusively at the door of the current mayoral incumbent. Indeed, the problems stemming from amalgamation predate the ascension of Rob Ford, and JM’s right to point out the institutional flaws in the way the megacity was designed, and how they continue to fester. Those flaws are in the provincial enabling legislation and in the way it’s been implemented, and ultimately how well any municipal administration functions depends largely on how the officials of the day manage to navigate them. Some will do it better than others …
Anyway, if I’ve read Adam’s essay properly, his main point of disagreement with JM is that this is a crisis of one mayor, rather than every mayor. (Adam, what I said to JM above? Same goes for you.) As Adam argues:
This isn’t a rogue council exploiting the system; this a council seeking leadership but finding that he whose job it is to provide leadership has abdicated his responsibility.
The question John then seems to ask of someone from my perspective is, If you’re going to ignore the mayor then what’s the point of having one? What we’re in now is possibly the most extreme case one could think of in this model of governance given that it has worked for mayors of all political stripes dealing with councils that were frequently more moderate in their views than the mayor of the day. In my mind, redesigning a system of governance in response to an extreme situation is a recipe for bad governance. We should continue to view our mayor as the person responsible for thinking in city-wide terms …
In the best Matlovian tradition, I’m going to come down somewhere in the middle, and suggest that they’re both right. Admittedly I’m being somewhat simplistic, and I won’t assume I’ve fully addressed their arguments, but on reflection, much depends on how you define mandates.
“Mandate.” It’s a loaded term. Whatever we may think of Rob Ford, he’s sincere enough in contending that his election gives him a mandate to pursue a transit vision based on subways rather than surface rail. (Whether that vision makes economic sense is another argument. And it would be nice if he and Doug stopped mischaracterizing LRT as “trolleys” or “streetcars” or whatever, and stopped talking about the “St. Clair disaster,” but that, too, is another argument.) And JM’s right in pointing out that a citywide election gives Rob Ford a democratic mandate broader than that enjoyed by any individual councillor. Just how much weight that mandate should carry, however, is another question.
And this is where my elitist bias (bring it on, anti-snooty-downtown-elite-pantywaisters …) comes into play. In my respectful submission, your mandate is only as good as the discussion it’s based on. You can pretty much guess where I’m going with this: a mandate based on shallow, thoughtless, bumper-sticker catchphrases like ”Stop the Gravy Train” or “Respect for Taxpayers” or “Stop the War on the Car” or “no service cuts, guaranteed” (bit awkward, that one) doesn’t really carry much weight (indeed, Ed Keenan’s already pointed out that Rob Ford seems to govern by catchphrases). Certainly less so than one based on thoughtful, respectful engagement, and a reasonably thorough conversation about the issues of the day.
As always, it comes down to the difference between campaigning and governing. While my view of the current administration at City Hall is a matter of record, this isn’t just about Rob Ford. Democratic governance and a healthy civil society depend on active civic engagement. If we allow shallow catchphrases to dominate public discourse, then we end up with lapel-button slogans instead of carefully considered public policy, and that’s true regardless of who’s proffering them. And that’s got more implications for municipal governance than any debate over “treachery,” or whether Team Ford’s capable of compromise or not.
Anyway, both Adam and JM have made healthy and remarkably snark-free contributions to the debate. Thanks, guys. There’ll be more about this in the next few days, I’m sure.
- Winning back the words: reclaiming ‘elitism’ in the age of Rob Ford | #TOpoli #onpoli
- The Clamshell’s @DavidHains on elitism, #TeamFord, and critical thought | #TOpoli
- @JohnLorinc and @thekeenanwire on the city budget, and dealing with Team Ford | #TOpoli
- In answer to @graphicmatt – no, this isn’t conservatism | #TOpoli
- On Rob Ford and generosity of spirit | #TOpoli #Jack
- Democratic governance and that troublesome ‘deserve’ thing | #TOpoli #cdnpoli