I just sent this off to the FVC ginger list.
Hello, Fair Vote Ginger people. I have something you should all hear about. I was at one of these city consultations on ward boundary revision the other day. It was very interesting.
What offended me was that no voting reform or urban reform type people were there. This should be prime territory for handing out "Fair Voting for Toronto" leaflets. I wish I'd had a few on me. Also, for barking about other aspects of local government reform.
There are four of these consultations left. I will try to make at least one of them. But even better, there were no less than four city councillors there. What a way to have some influence! I was in my glory howling about the need for reform not just of ward boundaries, but the philosophy of local government.
The city has hired a private firm forum these consultations. I think the budget was $800,000. There have been no changes to the city ward boundaries since 2000, when the Harris government set out to permanently cripple local government in Toronto.
Harris mandated that ward boundaries were to conform to the federal and provincial riding boundaries, but with two councilors per ward; the top two vote getters in plurality contests. Of course these bastards divided the wards between themselves and went back to single member constituencies. But these were at least roughly equal in population.
Since then population evenness has been going out of whack as some areas are infilling and others are depopulating. The biggest ward is now double the smallest ward. They are taking as a rule that the difference should be no more than twenty five percent and ideally less than ten percent.
What they were interested in hearing was; what principles should be used in redrawing the ward boundaries? They used to be redrawn after every census but like many things, the city(s) forgot how to do that after being amanglemated. Historically, some very bad ideas about distributing ward boundaries have led to some strange and unfair voting results.
There seemed to be agreement in the room that the boundaries should not cut across standing communities. We have 140 of these in Toronto, all mapped out. However, there is some disagreement about what is a standing community.
I have some concerns about the value of the city's mapping of communities. I find that I am living in something called "Waterfront Communities-The Island". It's boundaries have little relation to St. Lawrence neighborhood, which I have always assumed I was living in. I am sure the residents of "Olde Towne" will be interested to know that they are really living in "Moss Park".
I pointed out that a big part of the problem with the wards being based on provincial and federal boundaries is that these boundaries are based on gerrymandering for partisan objectives. When we had Liberal governments this meant that strongly NDP and Conservative neighborhoods were split up while Liberal territory was usually kept in one riding. With the Conservatives, Liberal voting is being minimized.
This caused my neighborhood to be cut in two right down the middle, and cut off from people we had previously had much in common with. For federal elections purposes, we are a little annex cut off from the rest of our new riding by the downtown core. So, Federal/provincial boundaries are no guide.
It was generally agreed that there would be a big problem getting people to generally agree on where one community began and another ended. But I again got up and imparted my wisdom that most of this problem would be made irrelevant if you had large districts with several councillors representing it. This also solved the problem of bad or highly partisan councillors who can not be got rid of or got around.
Later, they got into the issue of how big a ward should be. Most of the people present thought the wards should be smaller. Councillor Davis said she felt that a ward should not be bigger than 50 000 people to be able to provide effective service. Councillor McMahon piped up that her office was often overwhelmed by demand for service.
I and my big mouth again stood up and pointed out that they should not be thinking about the size of the ward, but the ratio of councilors per person. The wards could easily vary in size to fit discrete areas, and an ideal size could be about three to five. But as for the ratio of people to councilors, some students of municipal government have said as few as 15 000 and certainly not more than 30 000.
At the end, when "other comments" were solicited, I got into the heavy topic. The process of reform was important. We do not want the councillors deciding this by some negotiation among themselves. These people have been seen to have a lot of difficulty with the concept of conflict of interest.
I was reassured that the boundary changes would be by an independent commission, although that was not quite the point. The rules the commission works on should not be set by the council either. There is a need for a process of amending the city government's working rules according to citizen oversight, by some form of constituent assembly.
But that was too much of my brilliance for these people to absorb in one day. We all headed back out into the cold.
But there is a definite need for the public to start taking control of their government. It seems like the good burghers of Toronto have just given up on city government since the Harris years. It is like they just cannot take ownership of it. This is even though they seem to recognize, as one person there said, that the federal government could disappear and we would never miss it, but if the city government vanished we would know it that day.
Toward that, I have put together the following draft protocols for a citizen led restructuring of local democracy in Toronto.
1) The province must agree to get out of the city's business, especially with regard to the basic laws of the city. Why are these decided by the province with no input from those effected? Where in the world is this done?
2) A constituent assembly should be convened regularly, with the citizen's assembly on voting reform as a rough guideline, to discuss amendments to city government and provide the council with basic principles. This is one of the few things the province should do in Toronto government until a CA can decide its own rules for convening the next CA.
3) The Single Transferable Vote system needs to be established in municipal elections. Elections for mayor should be abolished in favor of a parliamentary mayor, one chosen by the other members in the way a Premier or Prime Minister is.
4) The city must accede to the powers of a province. It is the only way to solve the problem of lack of power and revenues to be able to do what it needs to do, without spiteful interference driven by the rural mentality and the anti-urbanist tendency in the Ontario ruling elite.
5) Any student of urban governance will tell you that a centralized city government of this size is not workable. You need a subordinate level of governance. It is considered that boroughs of about half a million are ideal, but I would suggest we need something smaller than that. Again, they do not have to be equal in population.
This opens up a great number of questions about the governance structure, especially about how to introduce more direct and deliberative democracy into it. As well, the principle of deference or subsidiarity; that power should be at the lowest possible level and that higher levels of government should deal only with what lower levels absolutely cannot do for themselves.
All this suggests that when a metropolitan, meaning multilevel, system is reintroduced in Toronto, it is the boroughs which should have the decisive power. The metropolitan government should be a creation of the borough governments. And there is a still lower level of governance to be considered; these 140 communities.
6) Cleaning up all the mess from provincial and federal interference, anti urbanism and the capitalism which is now falling apart, will be a big job. It needs to be done by some sort of urban party with deliberative democracy as a core principle. Deliberative democracy means one that is both participatory and direct. The public deliberates independently, decides, and sees that government carries out.
When you try to talk about this to most people, they look at you like you are...? That shows how much work needs to be done. But an organized party with the aim of setting in place a deliberative democracy which would eventually make political parties obsolete, is what is needed. It must proceed step by step, practicing what it preaches, engaging the public in order to counter elite "herd management" techniques.
But the place to start with all this is some sort of citizens group committed to reforming city government. How we get that going in cement head Toronto, I do not know.