There was a time back when municipal politicians were part-time civil servants, doing their political duty out of love for their community - is that day gone?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

September 22, 2018



I wonder if Mr. Ford has changed his view of unelected judges now that an appeal tribunal has sided with the premier and stayed the Superior Court decision against him. Ford may be unfair but apparently didn’t violate anyone’s freedom of expression in the appeal panel’s view. It will be up to a proper court of appeal to make the final decision, but what’s the point now?

Toronto’s municipal election will go ahead with 25 Councillors and that likely means there will be no need for the premier to invoke the notwithstanding clause. For every hundred thousand Toronto residents there will be a Councillor in City Hall just as there is an MP in Ottawa and an MPP at Queen’s Park. That is among the lowest level of representation in the country regardless of order of government.

Ford - dumb thoughtful

A thoughtful Premier?

But reducing the number of Councillors should also serve to strengthen the position of Toronto Council and its mayor, vis-a-vis the provincial level of government. To start with each Councillor will have been elected by the same number of residents as was the Premier. If Mr. Ford had hoped that by cutting numbers city officials would become more compliant to the whims of the province or beholden to him, he hadn’t really thought this through.

Then there is the obvious. Fewer Councillors will result in a city government less in touch with its various communities, and especially those of diverse demographics. And as for the twenty-five million dollars of savings over four years – that’ll get lost once the inevitable salary increases and extra staff are added. “Remember the Amalgamation” should be the battle cry every time somebody mentions those imaginary cost savings from reducing the number of politicians.

Fewer politicians’ means more responsibility for those remaining and that will lead to more pay, sure as night follows day. There was a time back when municipal politicians were part-time civil servants, doing their political duty more out of love for their community than for the pay or the opportunity to climb the ladder to a higher office.

Now just look at the nearly one dozen aspiring candidates running for full-time Councillor in Burlington’s Ward One. And check your Adam Smith. Simple economics tell us that when the number of wannabe public officials exceeds the number of positions like this, the price (remuneration) is already too high.

Click to view report

Few realized how big an impact this report was going to have; some want it re-written.

Growth brings prosperity we’ve been told. But urban growth, leading to high density development, is also a huge issue in Burlington’s elections this year. Which is why Burlington’s mayor trucked off to Queen’s Park to ask for relief from a decade old band aid, known as Places to Grow – intended to mask a generation of poor urban planning. Like a bandage it just covers, but doesn’t actually heal the wound.

And since he had the ear of the new government Mayor Goldring popped the notion that his city should annex Waterdown. His argument was based on the proximity of Waterdown and how its future development would have significant ramifications for Burlington. Besides Mr. Ford had just demonstrated that there is no such thing as impossible, so why not grab that little bit of tax base from Hamilton.

Goldring campaign picture

Did Mayor Goldring throw a Hail Mary pass or did he really think through what he proposed to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

Cynics might say that Burlington’s mayor was only trying to inject some life into an uninspiring campaign for re-election. But he certainly created an impression and precipitated a reaction from the Hamilton crowd. Some of Hamilton’s Councillors, blind-sided by this proposal suggested that Hamilton should in turn annex all of Burlington. Good for the goose….

I recall an interview prior to his election victory in 1995 where Mike Harris talked about the ideal sized community, choosing his own North Bay as an example. But his perspective changed once he got convinced by his bureaucrats that 850 municipalities were way too many communities for them to get their heads around. And getting down to some 400 would be better. Better for whom?

So forced amalgamation became a means to that end. The clarion call was that lumping communities together would somehow result in lower costs. Economies of scale would kick in and yield big savings. But that didn’t happened, and certainly not in Toronto or Hamilton. Seems the problem was what we call dis economies of scale – the new cities were too large.

In the case of Hamilton none of the constituent municipalities were looking for an amalgamated hook-up with old steel town. So it was going to have to be a shot gun marriage. And that is what they got. But before they arrived at the alter some of the local authorities got to check out their potential partners like any forward thinking couple would do.

Waterdown sign

Is it a fit? Where will the idea go?

East Flamborough and Burlington had fallen in love for each other but never quite made it to the sack to consummate their relationship, barred from the bedroom by the premier dog-in-the-manger. Even though the sparks of requited love were abounding Harris knew Hamilton needed lots of suburban tax revenue to pay for his downloading of social services.

And Hamiltonian’s already were paying the highest taxes in the province, so he couldn’t let any part of the former region elope with another well-heeled partner. McGuinty, though winning Hamilton seats as the anti-amalgamation candidate refused to unscramble the omelet called Hamilton. But who knows, perhaps Mr. Ford will.

Oh how much fun it can be for grown-up people to act like children, playing risk or one of those other political board games, and re-enacting the 19th century European wars. I wonder if Premier Ford had as much fun re-engineering and gerrymandering the wards in the City of Toronto – swatting all those lefties off the game board.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

Waterdown Annexation –   Response to Goldring –     25 Member Council

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1 comment to There was a time back when municipal politicians were part-time civil servants, doing their political duty out of love for their community – is that day gone?

  • Hans

    Thank you for an interesting essay Ray.
    IMO the right thing to do before involving a neophyte provincial government (and at the very end of the Burlington Council mandate) would have been to get the support of Burlington Council and then make the case for cannibalizing Hamilton in Hamilton, instead of surprising our neighbours. It’s difficult to see that there could be a “win-win” in Burlington’s annexing of Waterdown for both municipalities, which makes this look like a very selfish effort by Goldring. He seems like a (figurative) loose cannon. Or simply desperate to create distraction from the serious issues that voters will be considering. Either way, I’m not impressed.