Doug Ford, during the engineered mayhem of yesterday’s council meeting, challenged the provincial government to call an election.
Okay, Doug, I’ll bite.
My proposal: that Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals push ahead with two key legislative moves to restore confidence in the province’s largest municipal council.
First, pass an order-in-council that would require the City of Toronto to hold a general municipal election before the end of April, 2014, with the next one scheduled for October, 2018.
Secondly, amend the City of Toronto and Municipal Elections acts to allow ranked ballot elections, as well as provide about 250,000 permanent residents with the right to vote, as recommended by council last July.
It’s safe to assert at this point that council is in the midst of a full-blown governance crisis. So let’s not waste it. The province can leverage this chaos to accelerate a program of democratic reform that is council-supported and forward-thinking, and, as a bonus, may well rid us of the scourge of the brothers Ford once and for all. After all, Ford’s 2010 election, and the pounding migraine that has ensued, represents perhaps the best argument I’ve ever heard against first-past-the-post elections.
Here’s the case in favour of an accelerated election: the Fords’ stunts at council tell me that these political goons are going to do everything in their power to derail the work of local government in Toronto. The threatened lawsuit is just window dressing — what they crave is televised mud-wrestling and the slavish attention of the world’s media. The CNN crews will go home eventually, but the Fords are nothing if not bull-headed. I have every confidence they can keep up this lunacy until next fall.
So despite council’s moves in the past several days to strip Ford of his delegated authority, it can’t muzzle him. There was apparently no will to lock the doors of the mayor’s protocol lounge and hide the keys.
Does that mean we get another of these highway pile-ups every month? Will Ford try to throw a spammer into the work of the executive committee, or turn up at committee meetings with lists of inane questions, like the Energizer bunny on meth?
From where I sit, this session of council is now effectively over. Yes, the councillors may convene to make decisions. But debates on every single issue of substance will be distorted or derailed by the Fords’ histrionics (not to mention the political positioning of Karen Stintz and Denzil Minnan-Wong). It’s time to throw the breaker switch and get on with an election we desperately need to have.
None of this is to say that there aren’t compelling arguments against an accelerated and foreshortened race. Longer campaign periods provide lesser-known candidates with more time to muster supporters, gain media profile, and raise funds. There are more debates, and, in theory, there is more scrutiny of the candidates.
In terms of this specific situation, moreover, one could argue that sticking with Ford until next October is the political equivalent of the you-broke-it-you-own-it rule. We collectively put a uniquely unqualified candidate into the city’s most visible and difficult job. So now we should be prepared to sleep in the bed we made.
Point is, the longer voters have to observe the Fords make a complete mockery of local democracy, the more cautious they will be when they have to cast their next vote. Or at least, so the theory goes.
Lastly, there’s still the possibility that Ford may, at some point in the next year, find himself perp’ walked into Old City Hall after the police charge him with a criminal code offense related to Sandro Lisi’s alleged drug dealing or the suspected extortion attempt on the man who apparently had the video. Or what if the charge involves something much darker: Anthony Smith’s murder, Renata’s bruises? If or when such a day arrives, the electoral calculus will abruptly fade to black.
Despite all the arguments in support of the existing electoral timetable, I find myself gravely concerned about the long-term reputation damage the Fords are inflicting on the city, as well as the inevitable erosion of public confidence in the work of municipal government.
As is often noted about attack ads, the point of the exercise is always to create so much negative energy around politics that many voters will tune out. And when they do, the party best positioned to mobilize its hardcore base walks away with a narrow plurality garnered from a low-turn-out race.
That cynical outcome, in effect, is what the Fords were doing yesterday when they began barking at people in the spectators’ gallery and galloping around the council floor. To those who weren’t present, they are saying, in effect, “Don’t come down here, because we’re a pair of tough-ass bastards and we’re going to be in your face, you bunch of pinko, unemployed losers.”
And to their supporters and the people who just enjoy the spectacle of it all, they’re saying, “More where that came from.”
The city desperately needs to change the channel, and that is a point of broad consensus among the leaders of all three political parties. For that reason, Wynne has it well within her power to bring all this stupidity to a head without abrogating local democracy and possibly even enhancing it.
God knows we’re all engaged. So, as the mayor said last week, let’s just do it.
screen-capture from Globe and Mail video