Old City Hall council chambers, 1951
The independent fiscal review panel that Mayor David Miller put together to provide the city with advice on how to balance its books has recommended a stronger mayor system, and ever since, newspapers and blogs have been all aflutter debating the pros and cons of such a change.
Yesterday, Eye Weekly, in its editorial, came out in support of giving Toronto’s mayor more power. On its side is Mayor Miller himself, Premier Dalton McGuinty, some of Miller’s critics (including Denzil Minnan-Wong), and, of course, the panel of experts, which includes business leaders, academics, and labour professionals.
My colleagues at Eye raise some good points. From the editorial:
Critics of the so-called â€œstrong mayor systemâ€ (which is already the norm in large American cities) express concerns about â€œdemocracy.â€ These concerns are unfounded. Toronto’s mayor is directly elected by more voters than any other political official in Canada. If he doesn’t have a democratic mandate, who does?
Only the mayor runs on a platform that presents a vision for the entire city; only the mayor can consider every corner of the city as his constituency. It is ridiculous to give him no more authority than the local councillor for Etobicoke North, who gets elected on the strength of his ability to get potholes fixed at the end of his street and to whine about spending, and to call that democracy.
Eye argues that the way things work now â€œif Denzil Minnan-Wong, for example, were able to persuade a majority of councilors to back him, he could take over council’s agenda and govern as if he were mayor himself. So could any other councillor. That’s a problem.â€
These are persuasive arguments, but there’s still something about the stronger mayor system that the panel proposed that doesn’t quite sit right with me. Others who’ve expressed similar concern include, Councillor Adam Vaughan, former Mayor (and former Eye Weekly columnist) John Sewell, and Mike Smith at NOW. I’ve been blogging on the issue on Eye Weekly’s city hall blog. Here’s a snippet from my first post:
The new powers proposed by the panel would make the Executive Committee resemble a sitting political party even more than it already does. Give its members more money and they’ll be forced to weigh standing up for their constituents against receiving that beefed up paycheque should they want to vote against the mayor on important matters.
You can read my second post, which is a bit more long and involved, here.
What Mayor Miller, the panel, and few others are talking about is that a stronger mayor system, at least the kind the panel has proposed, will likely lead to the emergence of political parties. Toronto Star columnist Royson James has acknowledged this, as has Toronto Life’s political columnist Philip Preville. â€œThe more we talk about a stronger mayor,â€ writes Preville, â€œthe more we’re going to have to talk about a party system.â€ I agree.
So let’s get the discussion going: Where do you stand on giving the mayor more power?