LORINC: Diversity at city hall no longer our strength

Question: If Mayor Rob Ford had replaced Jaye Robinson with Frances Nunziata on the executive committee yesterday (note to procedural geeks: I know this isn’t possible), would City Council be any more responsive to women’s issues than it is in its new estrogen-free state?

Answer: Meh.

The story about the mayor’s latest cow patty two-step is not that he’s made his administration even less representative of the diverse interests of 51% of Toronto’s population, although that result seems to be inevitable. Rather, the Fords’ decision to promote Norm Kelly and Anthony Perruzza is merely the latest evidence of the two most pronounced ticks in their idiotic approach to council governance.

The first is that the Fords, for reasons which require no further explanation, fervently believe in what might be called a de-meritocracy: surrounding themselves with the most pliable and under-performing members of council. That the majority seems to be men doesn’t speak so well about the males on council. But the habit is born of a compulsion to boss around that dwindling collection of lackeys who are still willing to do their bidding.

I should pause here to say that Paul Ainslie’s remvoal as chair of the government management committee is a far bigger blow than Jaye Robinson’s dismissal. Despite her arts and government background, Robinson has not been a particularly impressive councillor, and her mystifying, though increasingly contingent, support of the Ford administration’s paleolithic approach to local government has long made me wonder about her integrity.

Ainslie, for his part, is a credible member of the thinking right who has taken some difficult but principled decisions in recent months. I frankly wish there were more like him on council, because the debates would be crisper and more focused on the nuances of policy as opposed to blunt instruments of politics.

As for the newcomers, Perruzza is, by a long shot, the least impressive member of council’s left – a 15-watt bulb who now probably harbours fantasies of wielding influence with the Fordites, even as they plot to knock him off in 2014. Kelly, of course, requires no further comment.

All of which leads me to the second defining feature of the Fordist approach to council politics, which is their remarkable ability to dehumanize those individuals (and constituencies) with whom they have a real or imagined difference of views.

What astonishes about the Fords is not merely their indifference to the women’s vote, such as it is. Rather, it is their ability to convince themselves that all the people in the city with whom they disagree don’t count. That’s what this latest move most vividly reveals, again. The observation is neither newsworthy nor original, but it’s worth repeating: the Fords believe that their supporters must vanquish their opponents on this field of battle known as the floor of council…as opposed to figuring out where the two constituencies’ common interests lie.

I know this will sound like a lecture, but every political leader — as a matter of first principle and regardless of ideology – has a moral obligation to understand how the other half lives, so to speak. That’s what it means when they say they’re the mayor of all the people. It’s not just about dancing with the ones that brung ya.

What’s more, the principle applies to left and right, downtowner and suburbanite, rich and poor, immigrant and indigenous. We share the city in all its urban messiness, and so it behooves those charged with its management to figure out how to make the best of a complex environment rife with diverging interests.

Ideally, council represents an imperfect forum in which those accommodations can be worked out, bit by bit. It is assuredly not a football game.

That the Fords’ treat local government like a football game — fielding a team made up of journeymen and has-beens — is merely another gift to the 65% of Torontonians who would not vote for a toaster oven if it promised to lower taxes.

And if Karen Stintz or Olivia Chow can use the Fords’ latest fumble to pry even more votes away from the Fords, so much the better.

Postscript: On Twitter yesterday, I asked how many Canadian publicly traded companies have boards that include no women.

Here’s one answer: According to a report on the governance of Canada’s 100 largest public companies [PDF], compiled by the head-hunting firm Spencer Stuart, 12% have no female directors, down from 29% in 2000. That year, in turn, 40% of leading corporate boards had two or more women; in 2012, the proportion had risen to 62%. Since 2006, the survey further found, there’s been a “significant increase” in the number of boards with multiple women directors.

That said, only 17% of all directors of these firms are women, compared to a third of Toronto city councillors.

photo by Erik Mauer

3 comments

  1. There is a perfectly simple way to put Nunziata on the Executive Committee. Boot her out of the Speaker’s chair. Of course that might lead to better run meetings and less tolerance for the Ford faction’s antics at Council.

  2. “We share the city in all its urban messiness, and so it behooves those charged with its management to figure out how to make the best of a complex environment rife with diverging interests.”

    John,

    For supporters of both Fords, read over the above statement carefully. Make sure you understand it fully. If you do, you’ll hopefully see how, both Rob and Doug Ford are terribly ill-suited, for elected office in a municipal government, or any government for that matter.

    Rob Ford in particular as the Mayor, given the physical set-up in Toronto, to be most effective, needs to be a consensus builder, needs to be able to meet half way, needs to, as you say, see the other side of an issue and needs to be able to give and take. Rob Ford can’t do ANY OF THAT! And that’s why, aside from some minor, “accomplishments”, has been a terrible Mayor. He’s polarized things and created massive divisions that will take a very long time to rectify. By the time his term mercifully ends, the city for the most part will have sat stagnant or moved backwards. But whoo-hoo, hoo-ray, he saved a few people a few tax dollars!

  3. Could “…their ability to convince themselves that all the people in the city with whom they disagree don’t count”…be part of why Jim Flaherty gave his endorsement to Mr. Ford?

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