Minimizing political oversight will do nothing to enhance services or reduce expenditures. It will merely concentrate power in fewer hands, eroding democracy in a process the current mayor has described as fundamentally flawed.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on August 6, 2018.
OTTAWA—Premier Doug Ford’s decision to cut Toronto City Hall down to size has all the earmarks of a revenge move.
And those at city hall piling in behind him have their own grudge matches to settle.
Toronto city councillor Jim Karygiannis wants to increase the size of local council seats to mirror federal jurisdictions. Not surprisingly, he used to be the federal Member of Parliament in the area he now represents municipally. He probably believes the realignment would guarantee his personal re-election in perpetuity.
Most observers believe that Ford wants to cut Toronto Mayor John Tory down to size because he was unable to beat the mayor in a real election.
What people do not know is that Karygiannis also has reasons for a federally-sized grudge match.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was preparing for the last election, he was fine-tuning his team in all parts of the country.
Part of that work included sitting down with the Scarborough Liberal Member of Parliament to quietly let him know that his services were no longer required.
Karygiannis uncharacteristically withdrew from the federal scene without a fight, and decided to throw his hat into the ring in Toronto city politics where no party affiliation is required.
For Jimmy K. that was a good thing, because his temperament and style did not lend themselves to collegiality. Party insiders knew him as a political thug, albeit a very effective one. A superb organizer, he easily marshalled voters in contested riding nominations and proved an invaluable asset when it came to leadership races.
It may be karma that one bully has found common cause with another. The move Ford announced last week, with the support of a dozen local councillors, including Karygiannis, is nothing more than a smack down of political opponents.
Sadly, Ford will probably get away with it because most people automatically believe that less government is better.
What they don’t realize is that minimizing political oversight will do nothing to enhance services or reduce expenditures. It will merely concentrate power in fewer hands, eroding democracy in a process the current mayor has described as fundamentally flawed.
Ford may be stopped by the courts, but if not, the political firestorm will be limited to a few downtown elites, the very voters that Ford blames for his mayoral loss to current city incumbent Tory.
The normally mild-mannered Tory was livid in his denunciation of the process and approach taken by Ford in the proposed downsizing.
Tory said he was angered by Ford’s decision to make the announcement on the eve of the civic nomination cut-off and issued the following statement. “I have said clearly that you don’t change the rules in the middle of an election. That’s why I believe the municipal election should proceed as is.”
The mayor has received the backing of a majority on Toronto City Council to seek legal advice and demand a referendum on the question. But chances are, if a referendum were held, Tory may not be happy with the outcome.
People outside government have little understanding of the oversight role that is played by politicians. It would not be hard to convince voters that halving the number of elected officials is actually a good thing.
From a financial point of view, the move will not affect the bottom line, so why bother? The fewer politicians you have, the more powerful they become. If Karygiannis were able to claim a constituency as large as that of a federal Member of Parliament, he would wield more power. With fewer councillors vying for budget allocations in line with their priorities, there would be more money around to support his own pet projects.
The proposal smacks of a power grab, pure and simple. For Ford, it is a chance to have back at those councillors, and urban, left-leaning voters, who derided his brother while in office, and didn’t even give him a chance to govern.
For both men, revenge is a dish best served cold. But this dish is rotten to the core.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.