Why we can’t have nice things.

In Weston, the status quo is far from desirable. Change for the better seems to be almost impossible and for decades, long-term planning has been ignored while property developers suck communities dry with minimal consequences. In a city as dynamic as Toronto, it actually takes concerted planning and effort to bring a community down to the same depressing level as Weston. Neglect needs help, even in Weston.

It’s not just Weston that has suffered. Toronto’s infrastructure has barely changed in 50 years while the population of the GTA (Census Metropolitan Area) has almost tripled. Sewage lines are at capacity, roads are potholed, highways are blocked for much of the day while public transportation is inadequate and underfunded.

The problem lies in the political process with which we attempt to run the city. In a nutshell, it’s broken and unfortunately there’s little hope on the horizon. As a result, we have a collection of comfortable incumbents and a mayor whose inability to get fired has amazed (and amused) the rest of the world. Anyone watching a council meeting in progress can only marvel at the sheer stupidity, petulance and inattention that bogs down the important business of running a city; not to mention those voting the wrong way and then requesting a motion calling for a re-vote. While that isn’t bad enough, on the rare occasions that consensus is achieved by council, decisions are routinely ignored by senior levels of government. Canada’s engine of growth and prosperity has to beg for handouts from the other two levels of government.

Let’s start with the rank and file politicians that we send to city hall. Councillors can be confident of a four-year term if they can persuade about 20% of the electorate to vote for them. That bags them a place on the sunshine list plus 100% benefits. There’s even severance money for retirees or those voted out of office but sadly, it’s rarely necessary. Council incumbents range from right-wing strutting buffoons to left-wing rampant egomaniacs and do-nothing placeholders in the middle. Helping each councillor cope with the day-to-day grind of decision-making, $220,000 is provided for four staff to ease the burden. An ability to tolerate long and tedious meetings seems to be one of the few pre-requisite talents.

If you think about the people who vote for our elected officials, there’s a core of support that’s unshakable, regardless of (or perhaps because of) any nefarious and outrageous behaviour. Mayor Ford can point to the stubborn support of Ford Nation as evidence of his hard core followers. There’s no doubt that despite his many flaws, he has connected with people. Just as Mussolini made the trains run on time, Rob returns his calls. There are many who believe that Mayor Ford has an excellent chance of re-election next October. That solid unwavering wedge of support could easily trump the divided votes of other, more worthy candidates. The Ford brothers’ intransigence is bolstered in large part by this unwavering support.

There is a saying that all politics is local. The feds always seem to have billions for tax cuts, partisan spending and military boondoggles but no long term plans for cities. The provincial Liberals spend money like drunken sailors but can’t manage to extend their profligacy to cities. This is the perfect time to ask our federal and provincial political representatives what they propose for the city and when they intend to start doing something for Toronto other than make vague promises. When can we expect some decent money for infrastructure along with a long-term plan of investment that is not subject to the whims of the next self-serving idiot who manages to lie convincingly to the people?

We can also ask Premier Wynne and Prime Minister Harper to encourage the political process by allowing ranked balloting. ‘First past the post‘ voting has failed us as an electoral system and actually discourages good people from running.

I don’t want to go all Russell Brand, because bringing down the system would be very disruptive and destroy many peoples’ lives. However, change is vital if we are to survive as a city, society and yes, even as a country. Politics, in the right hands can be a truly noble pursuit and we need to encourage talented and thoughtful people to put themselves forward and have a decent chance of success. We also need to let our representatives know that we intend to hold them to account. Let’s not be content with the status quo. Ask the questions, ‘What do you intend to do for Toronto in the long, medium and short term?’ and, ‘Since you are an incumbent, what has stopped you until now?’

It truly is time for a change.

Homework assignment: name the best Toronto mayor in recent memory (City, Metro or pre-amalgamation town / township mayor)  and why.