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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

LORINC: Rossi’s disingenuous term limits

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I’ve spent the past three weeks mercifully out of earshot of Toronto’s 2010 election follies. But a quick scan of recent events suggests to me that the campaign has yet to emerge from the rhetorical basement.

Exhibit A: Rocco Rossi’s new and improved election strategy. Perhaps he’s got a very mischievous sense of humour, but it strikes me as rich indeed that Rossi would come out in favour of term limits — an idea that has never had much purchase in Canadian political culture — during the same week when he unveiled the retiring Mike Feldman as part of his buffed up campaign team.

The target of Rossi’s pledge was almost certainly Howard Moscoe, who many think overstayed his welcome. But Feldman is surely also a poster child for term limits, having served since 1992, with not a great deal to show for his efforts. He’s a businessman who retired into politics and stuck it out for six consecutive terms, serving mostly as a cheering section for Mel Lastman, another inductee to the term limits hall of shame. By Rossi’s own proposed standard — a maximum twelve-year run for councillors — Feldman, as of 2010, is six years past his best-before date.

What’s more, inherent in Rossi’s pledge is a pointed critique of Mississauga’s mayor-for-life Hazel McCallion. If memory serves, Rossi made a great big deal of sidling up to McCallion at an event early in the campaign, touting her support for his naïve plan for a GTA-wide economic development agency. With the embattled Mrs. McCallion twisting in the wind at the inquiry into her son’s business dealings, I guess it’s easier now for Rossi to impose a very short-horizon term limit on her implicit endorsement.

As we continue our stroll through Rossi’s expanded entourage, we encounter figures like long-time lobbyist Bernie Morton and the inestimable Warren Kinsella. In a previous life, he spun for former prime minister Jean Chretien, who represented the good people of Saint-Maurice through almost four decades in the House of Commons, except for a seven-year hiatus on Bay Street. So I’m guessing we won’t be hearing Kinsella’s candid views on term limits between now and October 26th.

Touting the case for term limits, Rossi waxed eloquent about the importance of injecting new ideas into the maw of City Hall. Fair enough, but let’s probe this one a bit more thoroughly before accepting it as received wisdom.

As part of his announcement, Rossi touted the results of an apparently independent poll commissioned by one Victor Pappalardo. It found that 73% of Torontonians support such electoral reforms.

Pappalardo, as it happens, is no Johnny-come-lately to local politics, a detail most of the media coverage failed to mention. He’s a one-time baggage handler turned aviation entrepreneur who ran Porter Air’s down-market predecessor, City Express, during the mid-1980s — a very heady period for the island airport.

At the time, he bankrolled a study calling on city and the Toronto Harbour Commission to construct a vehicular tunnel under the Western Gap to improve access to a facility then serving hundreds of thousands of short-haul travellers.

Could it be that Pappalardo’s sudden re-emergence means he’s angling to get back into the newly profitable airport aviation game?

In fact, by a truly amazing coincidence, Rossi, earlier this year, came out in favour of…a tunnel under the Western Gap to, well, you know the rest.

The moral of our story: there can be no terms limits on really great ideas.

photo by Kevin Steele



  1. I think term limits are a good idea – I think after 12-16 years you should do something else with your life. Rossi’s motives should not be a reason to discount the need to refresh local politics.

    I think it’s more important to put higher onuses on incumbents. It’s ridiculous that Moscoe and others were able to delay as long as they did in announcing their intention to run again. I’d like to see:

    1. Campaigns to start in April
    2. Incumbents to declare no later than July if they wish to run again
    3. Maximum 4 consecutive terms
    4. Limits on the rolling-over of campaign warchests
    5. Secondment of staff by unions or companies banned

  2. Would Hazel McCallion was mayor of Toronto, instead of Mississauga, would a term limits be also proposed?

  3. Would Hazel McCallion be elected as mayor of Toronto?

    I don’t think there was a whole lot of miraculous governance by McCallion. She had a city that was equipeed with brand-new infrastructure paid for by development fees and the Region of Peel. By a strange conincidence, her retirement will be roughly at the same time as the end of development and the start of a lot of infrastructure upkeep in Mississauga.

  4. Term limits play to the people who want to “throw the bastards out”, and Rossi is simply trying to poach some of Ford’s supporters.

    The issue of ranked ballots is far more important because it would ensure someone was elected with a clear, 50%+ vote of people who wanted them as a first, second or maybe third choice. Our next mayor could win with barely more than one-third of the votes cast.

    Representative government will come when the electoral system discourages rather than encourages vote splitting, and people can vote for who they really want, rather than against those they cannot tolerate.

    Term limits are a sideshow that will do little to improve the overall makeup of Council, certainly not the Mayor’s office where nobody has stayed beyond three terms in recent memory.

  5. Rossi had included term limits from the very beginning when he announced his candidacy. Although he’s shaken things up the past couple of weeks, the term limits have always been there.

  6. Term limits are the last refuge of voters who feel that they need to be saved from themselves, who can’t bring themselves to show up on election day or are too lazy to inform themselves about the issues and all the candidates. Replacing the voter choice with an artitrary number (which is what a term limit is) is fundamentally undemocratic. It also implies that experience is a bad quality for our municipal politicians, which is, of course, ridiculous.
    If the goal is to get more new blood on Council, then there are much better means than the blunt tool of term limits. The obvious solution would be to eliminate all the tools that Council has put in place to give incumbents an advantage over incumbents. Toronto actually has a by-law which prohibits election signage until the end of September — it was passed on the pretext of visual polution/signage control, but Moscoe admitted at the time that Councillors were well aware of the fact that it would hamper the ability of challengers to develop strong name recognition at election time. Signage-wise, the public interest would not be adversely affected if signage could go up a few months earlier. Similarly, we need to restrain the discretion Councillors have in using their office budgets (or, often other City budgets) to promote themselves between elections (no more “Bussin Warriors”, etc.) – we have such legislation at the provincial level, and there is no reason why similar rules can’t be implemented at the municipal level.
    I could go on, but we should be taking these sorts of steps, rather than artificially reducing voter choice at election time.

  7. The term limits “may” have always been part of his strategey, but it’s new emphasis along with his new love of voter recall seems to me like a final trial balloon to see if his deadly numbers improve before he packs it in. It’s too bad though because I think he may actually be the smartest person running. He just continually falls on the wrong side of too many issues for me.

  8. @Mark Dowling — The Province recently amended the Municipal Elections Act to eliminate the rolling-over of campaign warchests. That’s a tremendously helpful change, but the full effects may not be felt until the next election cycle.

  9. You offer no credible criticism for Rocco’s plan other than he knows a guy who worked with a guy who never brought up a concept of term limits. Or, he once said something nice to somebody who was in office a long time. Therefore, his plan is disingenuous. No offense, but this article is a load of tripe. And I say that as a guy who knows a guy who used to read a lot of tripe.

  10. @Canadianskeezix – thanks, I hadn’t heard about the MEA change. I agree with your arguments about incumbency but it is so overwhelming here in Toronto I think TLs are needed. Given that municipal politics is retail, there are too many favours councillors can do directly for individual voters in comparison with provincial or federal politicians I really doubt the likelihood of longer signage periods getting it done.

    @SteveMunro – I don’t want to throw the bastards out, I want Council to refresh itself on a regular basis, not just when incumbents either get scared or when there are seats opening up at higher levels of government. Note also I said 4 consecutive terms, not 4 terms.

    Recall on the other hand is a dreadful idea and a recipe for municipal uncertainty and expensive. Better to give more teeth to the Integrity Commissioner when Ford breaks Council rules for the umpteenth time.