The elephant in the room is a party animal
This blog will be on hiatus for the rest of this week. This means that there’s no point in checking out my take on tomorrow’s federal budget, because I won’t have one (and we will all be better off as a result). Nor will I bother having an opinion on what John Tory did for those three hours on Saturday, except to say that I hope he had a nice nap and that I’m not surprised by his final decision because I think he has a messiah complex: he believes his party needs him (apparently more than anyone else does). But before I go, I do want to sound off, briefly, on the rejuvenation of the “strong mayor” hullabaloo at city hall.
Of all the recommendations put forth by his fiscal review panel, the ones to which Mayor David Miller has hitched his wagon are those dealing with governance—renewing the push for a “strong mayor” system for Toronto. Which is fine, but it’s only half the story: to have a strong mayor, you will probably also need political parties of some form or other at city hall.
The panel recommends that the mayor be able to hire and fire the city manager. They say the mayor and the executive committee should have their own professional support staff. And they believe “the mayor and the executive committee should set and communicate clear and focused priorities” and “set the overarching vision and strategy.” In other words, they want the city’s “cabinet” to put forward a policy platform, in much the same way political parties do at other levels of government. The stronger the mayor becomes, the less inclined we should be to hand the power over to a lone-wolf candidate who is impervious to outside influence. Parties can be an important part of the checks-and-balances system in this regard: the more powerful an elected office is, the more we depend on political parties to express what they want to do with that office—and to guide the hand of the person who holds it.
Whenever people talk about a strong-mayor system, they point to U.S. cities like New York and Chicago, oblivious to the fact that the Democratic and Republican machines play an integral role in municipal politics there. Municipal political parties are the elephant in the Toronto council chamber right now, and the more we talk about a stronger mayor, the more we’re going to have to talk about a party system.