Monday, April 12, 2010

Rob Ford's Proposed Democratic Deficit

It's been three weeks since Rob Ford, he of the $0 expense accounts and the populist demeanor, stepped onto the stump and announced his entry into the Toronto mayoral race. It's no surprise that he's fairly prominent - aside from already being a known quantity, he's also somewhat polarizing. That's particularly true when you consider the only platform plank of his that I can find - according to the Toronto Star, his first act as Mayor would be to start the process of cutting Toronto City Council in half, from forty-four to twenty-two "tax-and-spend" councillors. Like pretty much everything else Ford does, it's being framed in terms of his "taxfighter" credentials.

I find it interesting that, in his urge to save Toronto's tax dollars, Rob Ford apparently believes that diminishing the strength of municipal democracy is a worthwhile trade-off. He's never said as much that I can find - but I wouldn't mind as much if he came out and said it bluntly.

The fact is, Toronto has forty-four councillors because Toronto has plenty of people to represent - 2,503,281 by the 2006 census, which gives each councillor a little under fifty-seven thousand people to represent at City Hall. This is unequal even when you take Toronto's neighbor cities into account. While the city of Barrie only has space for ten councillors in its council chambers, that city's 2006 population was 128,430 - meaning that each Barrie councillor only has to represent the interests of 12,843 people. Mississauga's eleven councillors each look out for 60,777 people out of 668,549. If Rob Ford is elected Mayor in October and he pushes his cuts to Council through, each councillor would represent 113,785 people - and as an unavoidable consequence, the government would become less responsive to the people. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day.

According to the City's website, in 2009 a councillor's salary was $99,153.60. This means that if we have Mayor Ford on October 27th and he starts these gears grinding, at the end of it all Toronto would be richer every year by the princely sum of $2,181,379. What a relief it is - that two million dollars obviously marks the difference between shining prosperity and financial ruin for the city. Maybe he can use it to clean up Queen Street and King Street, where apparently it is "filthy dirty, there's graffiti everywhere... there's empty stores, the windows are smashed." Just so long as he tells us where he's seeing this - because I commute downtown on the King streetcar every day, and I'd really like to know.

All I want is a little explanation - why Rob Ford thinks the level of representation in Toronto's municipal government should be roughly equivalent to that of the Ontario provincial government.


  1. For another point of comparison: the Helsinki City Council has 85 (!) councillors in a city of less than 600,000. Is that too much representation? I don't think so - despite being fairly politically involved about town, I don't feel I still know a single one of them well enough to just call them up and expect answers on a current local question. Given that this is the lowest level of _local_ government, issues affecting our immediate everyday environs, I feel I should be able to do that.

    Then again, I understand Toronto councillors are full-time professionals, which is not the case in the Scandinavian model. If Ford really wants to cut down on bureaucratic overhead, how about this: Toronto could easily afford thrice or quadruple the present number of councillors if they were semi-professionals, compensated for meeting-hours attended in lieu of their day job, instead of the present wallowing in expense-account bliss Ford seems to think his salaried job is. I doubt the quality of representation would decline enough to offset the increase in responsiveness - unless Ford truly thinks there are only twenty people in the city worthy of steering the great ship Toronto.

  2. How about some more comparisons?

    The City of Los Angeles has 15 councillors serving a population of 3.8 million divided into 15 districts.

    Greater London (England) with a population of 7.5 million has 14 "wards" and elects a total of 25 members to its "council."

    How well are we served by the 44?

    Many of Toronto's 44 councillors don't attend Council meetings regularly. A quick check of the voting record confirms this.

    Few of Toronto's 44 councillors return constituent telephone calls or emails. Just ask your neighbour if they've ever called their councillor and gotten positive results.

    Council has spent over $13 million (maybe much more) on a 3-1-1 call centre to respond to resident inquiries on almost every question a Councillor might deal with -- though, frankly, few deal with anything of value to their constituents.

    I certainly see no reason to pay more for less. Do you?