All five leading mayoral candidates finally agree on one thing: no party politics in city council

All five leading mayoral candidates finally agree on one thing: no party politics in city council

Party-free zone: city hall shouldn't bother with partisan politics, say mayoral candidates (Image: Bryson Gilbert, from the Toronto Life Flickr pool)

Last week we noted that city council is going to have a decidedly less morgue-like Wall Street Journal since there are 11 open seats. Not everyone is as excited about this as we are, though. Apparently, quite a few Toronto voters are confused by all the new names and faces, and CBC reported last week that having old fashioned political parties would really help sort thing out (currently city politics is a party-free zone). Well, if the opinions of the city’s leading mayoral candidates matter, this won’t happen: in the words of Joe Pantalone, bringing formal parties in to the clamshell “would be a terrible, terrible decision.”  We called around and learned that not a single candidate would venture a kind word for the idea.

The most common response from the candidates was that keeping city politics party-free helps build consensus, leading us to wonder which city exactly it is they were referring to. Most candidates conceded that there’s already party politics at council. Rocco Rossi was the pithiest, slamming David Miller by saying, “we actually have party politics, but we only have one organized party in council—the NDP.” Sarah Thomson echoed the sentiment, saying “there are many conservative councillors whose talents were never recognized under Miller, who felt completely shut out” at council.

Unsurprisingly, each candidate swore they’d bring people together without the pesky presence of political parties. Stefan Baranski, speaking for George Smitherman’s campaign, said of the current council that “every day a bunch of councillors show up to oppose anything that Miller does, and there’s a group around Miller that operates as a tacit political party—George believes that we need to get away from the extremes of Miller on the left and Rob Ford on the right.”

Rob Ford said the lack of strict, formal parties leaves more room for off-brand candidates to get their start in politics without needing the blessing of party machines. He also questioned where this would all lead: “If you bring in parties for council,” asked Ford, “do you bring them in for school board trustees?  Where does it end?”

Moreover, the fact that the city has to get along with two other levels of government that most certainly do have strict, formal parties makes the question of partisan politics more touchy: if we’ve got a Liberal government in Queen’s Park and a Conservative government in Ottawa, does it help the city to have one party or another in charge? Rossi noted that in Montreal and Vancouver, the parties are civic and don’t have direct ties to their provincial counterparts for just that reason.

Only two candidates brought up changes they would really like to see instead: Rossi suggested term limits as a way of keeping that new-car smell in council, and Thomson endorsed MPP Mario Sergio‘s Bill 82, which includes term limits, a smaller council, and an elected (although menacing-sounding) “board of control.”

For the final word, we’ll again turn to Mr. Pantalone, whose opinion pretty much summarizes all the candidates’ views: “The cure would be worse than the disease.”

Besides, if politics at council became more like they are at Queen’s Park and Ottawa, Toronto would have to figure out some way not to give itself money.

• Wall Street Journal