By PATRICK HUNTER
We have had a couple weeks now to digest the results of the recent municipal elections in Ontario and specifically, Toronto. The good news is that Doug Ford did not win. The bad news is that council did not change much to reflect the diverse nature of the City of Toronto.
It is not just Toronto City Council. The whole election apparatus, at all levels, have failed to encourage the participation of non-White individuals in the makeup of the governing structures of our country. For a country and a city that boasts and brags about its diversity, it is time that we demand of our representatives to “put up, or shut up”.
To be fair, it did seem to me that there were a larger number of racialized candidates for council. Of the 44 (45 including the mayor) seats, to the best of my knowledge the five incumbent racialized candidates were the only ones elected. Only one of them is of African descent.
There were a number of incidents during the campaign that signal that we, as a city, and as a community, are not yet fully willing to accept non-Whites within our governing circles. I refer, of course, to the racial attacks on Olivia Chow and Munira Abukar. There may very well have been others that did not make the news.
I am willing to go along with the thought that the attacks were somewhat isolated. However, the fact that they happened at all does indicate that there are residual feelings about race in this city that cannot be ignored. Let me also hasten to add that I was never under the impression that race was not a factor in all aspects of living in this city. But largely, it has been restricted to structural barriers – policing, employment – where blatancy was considered unacceptable.
There were about 65 candidates for mayor in the 2014 election. Admittedly, having all 65 at a debate would have been unwieldy. So, many of the candidates were shut out from airing their positions. Unless they had the opportunity to mount an election machinery along the lines of the big three, they were put in the category of “fringe” candidates and excluded from equal voicing of their positions.
At the Ward level, the opportunities were better. The candidate numbers were less and therefore more manageable. What defeated many, in this case, was name recognition. Many of the candidates have been in the seat for so long that they could practically get re-elected without mounting a major campaign, whether or not they do a good job. This speaks to taking another look at term limits of members of Council.
There was a time, when voting in the municipal election was open to permanent residents of the city, not just citizens. It would seem to me that permanent residents have a stake in the running of the city, perhaps not as candidates, but certainly as taxpayers. Why should they not have an opportunity to select who represents their Ward on Council?
As we know too well, many would-be citizens have what I would consider a valid objection to swearing allegiance to the Queen, something they would have to do to become citizens. Yet, they work, pay taxes, send their kids to schools in the Toronto area and do all of the things expected of them, whether or not they are citizens.
The antics of the outgoing mayor, during his term in office, brought disrepute to the office and Council. While it is unlikely that we will have that kind of performance from a future mayor or councillor for that matter, there has to be a way of disciplining for conduct unbecoming, up to and including the removal from office. I am not sure how that can be accomplished without the participation of the electors, but there are enough good minds out there that can come up with an acceptable set of guidelines. The current code of conduct has proven to be inadequate. Perhaps because we assume that elected officials would be able to exercise a certain sense of self-control, we left out certain behavioral characteristics that should be a part of the code.
The Mayor-elect has begun his preparation for taking office. So far, whether you agreed with his platform or not, he has set about this in a businesslike manner that suggests Council will return to a degree of normalcy and better behaviour as the focus will be on issues that face the City.
One positive outcome of this election was the high percentage of voter turnout. It was encouraging to see that about 60 per cent of eligible voters took the opportunity to make their voices heard, with many people waiting in long lineups to do just that. The opening and closing hours for the polls need to be addressed. Elections at the two upper levels allow 12 hours to cast your vote on Election Day.
These are a few things that a post-mortem of the whole election process should reveal and one hopes that the councillors and the province will take the opportunity to review and update the legislation, particularly in reference to increasing the diversity of Council.
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