I pride myself on knowing something about Toronto municipal politics. My blog has given me an excuse to attend City Council meetings and write of the Ford affair. Until last week, however, I knew absolutely nothing about the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, also known as RaBIT. Have you heard of it? I asked several knowledgeable friends also interested in municipal politics. Their response was like mine: the newspaper reports last week were the first they had heard of it.
So what is RaBIT? It’s a non-partisan, grassroots organization in Toronto which has been pushing for reform of our municipal election system for at least a year. Their webpage features a Steve Paikin Agenda interview (dating from April 2013) with activist Dave Meslin describing the proposed reform, information about its advantages, the experience elsewhere, and the support it has. RaBIT proposes a timeline for implementation that would see the enabling legislation passed in the spring of 2014, ranked ballots to apply to the election for mayor in 2018, and to the election for councillors in 2022.
And what is a ranked ballot system, also known as instant runoff voting? Instead of voting for only one person as mayor or councillor as we now do in the first-past-the-post system, electors would indicate three choices for each position, first, second or third. On voting night, if a single candidate obtains 50% plus one of the first choice votes, he or she wins. If no one obtains a majority, the candidate with the least number of first place choices is dropped, and the second place preferences of those voters distributed among the remainder. This allocation continues until one candidate for each position obtains a majority vote. This system is used in major U.S. cities, in state and federal elections in Australia, and also by Canadian political parties choosing their own leaders.
According to the website, the system has broad support across the political spectrum, and in the media. Andrew Coyne and Chris Selley of the National Post, Jerry Agar of Sun News, Edward Keenan of The Grid, Royston James and Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star, and the Toronto Star itself, have all endorsed the proposal. Given this high-powered media support, how come this reform has not been discussed more widely in the media?
The question is particularly apt as Toronto City Council actually voted, by a margin of 26 to 15, on June 11, 2013, to request that the Ontario government amend the Municipal Elections Act to authorize the use and establish the framework of Ranked Choice Voting to permit Toronto City Council to use ranked ballots and instant runoff voting in municipal elections. Since the current City Council has endorsed the proposal and formally asked the province for the power to implement it, why is the province not acting on Council’s resolution?
Adrian Morrow, in the Globe and Mail on February 24th, suggested that Premier Kathleen Wynne is keen about the idea, but doesn’t want the issue to become a hot potato in the 2014 municipal election. She is also said to be concerned that, if it were a government bill, the support necessary from the other parties to pass the bill might not be forthcoming. Her solution is apparently to go forward with a private member’s bill called the Toronto Ranked Ballot Elections Act, tabled on February 26th by MPP Mitzie Hunter who represents Scarborough-Guildwood, and scheduled for discussion at Queen’s Park on March 6th. The hope is that a private member’s bill could be the subject of a free vote and garner support from the NDP and Tories.
Hunter’s proposed bill would give Toronto City Council statutory authority to adopt a ranked ballot system. The caveats are that Council must hold public hearings before they do so, that any bylaw they pass would require provincial approval, and could go into effect only in 2015. NDP MPP for Davenport, Jonah Schein, has also tabled a private member’s bill giving Toronto City Council authority to adopt “an alternative voting system” (without specifying the ranked ballot alternative). That both the Liberals and the NDP are interested in municipal electoral reform is hopeful. Is it possible for them to work together to fast track this initiative before any provincial election?
I would have liked to see such an initiative apply to the upcoming 2014 municipal election. It would create the conditions for a fair, open and friendly election campaign which might actually focus on the issues. The reform discourages negative attacks on individual candidates, and requires candidates to broaden their appeal to as many voters as possible. These conditions are necessary now, not four years down the road. The incremental timeline favoured by RaBIT is probably more realistic. Given how little public discussion there has been about the proposal, that timeline is probably necessary for consultation and working out the details.
This proposal has prompted some interesting discussion. My friends and I have many questions about how it actually works. Since the proposed bill would require public hearings and a further decision from Toronto City Council, it strikes me that it is a good first step towards potential election reform. If you agree, you might want to add your support to the change.org petition found on the RaBIT webpage. The petition is to Premier Wynne and the provincial Opposition Leaders requesting that they respect the wishes of Toronto City Council and pass the enabling legislation now. Without the enabling legislation, there will likely be little discussion about the issue (witness the last nine months). With the enabling legislation, we can at least have the debate. That would be a very good thing.
IT’S NOW FRIDAY, MARCH 7th, and RaBIT has communicated with all those who signed their petition to announce that Mitzie Hunter’s Bill 166, the Toronto Ranked Ballot Elections Act, passed second reading yesterday and has gone to the Standing Committee on Social Policy for clause-by-clause review. RaBIT has circulated the names of the Committee members and their contact information so that supporters can communicate their desire that the Bill pass as expeditiously as possible. As a reminder, the Bill is only to empower the Toronto City Council to commence a consultation process about the ranked ballot issue for the 2018 election.
The Committee members are Chair Ernie Hardeman, Vice-Chair Ted Chudleigh, Members Bas Balkissoon, Mike Colle, Vic Dhillon, Cheri De Novo, Rod Jackson, Helena Jaczek, Paul Miller. The Committee Clerk, and presumably the staff person, is Valerie Quioc Lim at Tel. 416-325-7352. You can communicate with the Committee using her email address: email@example.com.
The Toronto City Council meeting yesterday was an exercise in contradictions. From the beginning of the meeting to the end, Councillors attempted to do their duty while the Fords, the “mayor” and his brother, persisted in bullying and intimidation.Expert municipal lawyer, George Rust-D’Eye, was hired by the Fords before the meeting to write a letter to the Councillors protesting their proposed attempt to curb his non-statutory powers, and to be present at the Council meeting to prepare for the court challenge which the Fords promise will come.Rust-D’Eye’s initial complaints were that the proposal to cut all his non-statutory powers was too vague, and that curbing Ford’s budget could impede his power to perform his statutory duties.
To meet these objections, legal staff assisted Councillors to draft a new motion which addressed the specific powers that were being curtailed. These included: assigning the Deputy Mayor to chair the Executive Committee and other key administrative committees, removing the Mayor from sitting on Standing Committees by virtue of his office, depriving the Mayor of his powers to designate or set times for items on the Council agenda and to choosing whether to speak first or last, providing City Council with power to fill vacancies on the Civic Appointments Committee and the City Housing Committee, and delegating to the Deputy Mayor those powers taken from the Mayor. In addition, the budget set for to the Mayor’s Office was cut by 60% and reallocated to the City Clerk’s Office to be administered under the oversight of the Deputy Mayor, effectively reducing the Mayor’s staff from twenty to eight. Staff currently working for the Mayor would have the option to transfer to the Deputy Mayor. There was considerable discussion how this budgetary allocation was determined and Councillors clarified with the City Manager that, should Ford find that he could not perform his statutory duties with the more limited budget, he could apply to the Council for further funds.
In their questions, Councillors were concerned to ensure that what they were doing could be defended in court. The City Solicitor’s opinion was that these were powers which came within the scope of the procedural bylaw of Council, and were not referable to Ford’s statutory responsibilities. In their speeches, the Councillors lamented that the Mayor had repudiated all their efforts to help him do the right thing. With the Mayor unresponsive, and his conduct more discreditable daily, the Councillors felt they had no choice but to do what they were doing. They voted on the amended motion, clause-by-clause. The votes carried with overwhelming majorities: 36-6, 38-4, 37-5, 32-10, etc. This was no left-wing “coup d’état.” It was the overwhelming decision of everyone, right, left and center, with only his brother and a handful of other supporters.
As conducted by the Councillors, the meeting was a sad and somber event, consistent with the seriousness of the occasion. The Fords, by contrast, treated the Council with contempt throughout. Both spent much of the meeting standing, Doug draped over the speaker’s dias (why was he not required to take his seat?), two hulking presences staring at the councillors seated at their desks in front of them. When Doug Ford spoke, he referred to the public in the gallery as “special interests,” “unions,” and the Mayor started to chant “NDP,” “NDP,” “NDP.” The meeting was about two hours old when a smirking Rob Ford left his desk and walked slowly along the aisle in front of the public gallery, his assistant taking photos of the people in the gallery. It is very intimidating to be photographed in such a situation. When people objected, Doug Ford joined his brother to bait individual members of the gallery. When there were calls of “shame,” “shame,” “shame,” from the gallery, the speaker Frances Nunziata ordered security to clear the public from the meeting. Needless to say, neither I nor anyone else moved. She called a fifteen minute recess when the shouting continued, and Mayor Ford knocked Councillor Pam McConnell to the ground. Fifteen minutes later, she rescinded her order, again admonished the gallery to keep silent, and demanded that Mayor Ford apologize to Councillor McConnell. Eventually he did.
At the end of the meeting, Ford’s last words to Council were that this was a “coup d’état,” and, as George Bush said to Saddam Hussein, “I warn you. I warn you. I warn you.” What they were doing was “the invasion of Kuwait” and would lead to “war” in the next election. Andrew Coyne in the National Post this morning caught the real flavour of the “menace” and “contempt for social norms” which has characterized the actions of Mayor Ford, and which was on display yesterday. As Coyne writes, “The mayor’s actions Monday were quite deliberate. They reflected the influence, not of intoxicants, but his own limitless ego and unformed character. As such it is not Ford who has the problem; it’s the city. The message he needs to hear, from every corner, is not get help, but get out.”
And with this, I will cease any further discussions of the Fords for as long as possible.
One of the great perks of retirement is the chance to attend historic events which occur during normal working hours. Being there live is to feel in your bones the drama and the pathos of current affairs. The unprecedented Toronto City Council meetings dealing with Mayor Rob Ford, which I attended on Wednesday and again today, are examples of such events.
Stripping the Mayor of his Powers
This morning, the Council first passed a motion “to improve the Decision Making Environment at City Hall.” This suspended the powers of the Mayor to appoint and dismiss the Deputy Mayor and the Standing Committee Chairs, confirmed the incumbents in their office for the balance of the term, confirmed their cross-appointments to the Executive Committee, and made consequential changes in the event of vacancies. These were powers that had been conferred by Council on Toronto’s Mayor effective December 1, 2006 under the city Procedural Bylaw. Questioned about the legal authority of Council to strip the Mayor of these powers, the City Solicitor indicated that these were not powers conferred on the Mayor by statute (which the Council could not change), but further powers conferred by Council which Council had power to take away.
The Ford brothers threatened legal action challenging the motion and insisted that defending a court case “would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The resolution passed 39-3, and the bylaw 40-2. An overwhelming expression of Council’s wish in the face of overt legal threats from the Fords.
Later this morning, Council also passed a motion “Reassigning the Powers of the Mayor under Chapter 3, Accountability Officers, and Chapter 59, Emergency Management, to the Deputy Mayor until November 30, 2014.” Again, the City Solicitor was clear that the Mayor still retained statutory authority to declare an emergency; Council could not strip him of that. But his administrative responsibilities as chair of the First Responders Committee when the Emergency Operations Center is activated (as during the G20, the 2012 Grey Cup and the recent summer floods) could be redirected to the Deputy Mayor. Similarly, Council could provide that the Deputy Mayor be delegated to appoint the selection panels and chair the process for the appointment of the Accountability Officers, most particularly the Integrity Commissioner whose term is up shortly.
Again in the face of explicit threats from both Rob and Doug Ford that this action could be challenged in court “costing the taxpayers money,” this resolution and bylaw passed 41-2, the Fords in the dissent.
A third Special Meeting is planned for noon Monday. More on that to follow.
Watching the Fords attempt to intimidate City Council with explicit threats of lawsuits over these provisions is very disquieting. They have deep pockets; the taxpayers do not. Someone in the Public Gallery called out the obvious: “save taxpayers money, resign.” The voice of common sense; the voice of the people; out of order. The Ford strategy is becoming evident. Buoyed by the success of their appeal over the conflict of interest issue a year ago, they appear intent on taking the City to court. And so, the Fords will fight on, and the saga will continue, not only in “the court of public opinion” but also “in a court of law.” The issue is apparently not the good of the City; the only issue in their minds is the good of the Fords
A Retrospective on Wednesday’s meeting
Wednesday’s meeting was not the “public flogging” or the “rumble in the jungle” the Ford brothers predicted. Contrary to some press reports, it was a remarkably restrained meeting, focused, somber and sad, with Councillors across the political spectrum painfully alert to their distasteful job at hand. Chair Frances Nunziata, a notorious Ford partisan, handled the meeting with unaccustomed aplomb, disrupted primarily by the bullying and bluster of the Ford brothers. The Council and the public were dumbfounded, embarrassed, even shell-shocked, by the Mayor’s further admissions of his discreditable conduct (this time buying illegal drugs) and his obtuse intransigence in the face of the obvious. And Ford’s response to the motion requesting he take a leave? He insisted that he would stay, would attend every meeting, and would “continue to save taxpayers money for the next five years.” And then he attempted to introduce a motion requiring all Councillors to undergo hair, drug and alcohol testing by December 1st “paid for by Mayor Ford.” The motion was ruled out of order.
Members of Council (particularly his former colleagues on the right) put some hard questions to Mayor Rob Ford. Why the double standard in sanctions for a sleeping employee and for himself? What about his repeated promises to avoid public drinking? To which he replied that he had apologized and “never repeated it at the Air Canada Centre.” When asked if he had purchased illegal drugs in the last two years, there was a long silence, seven seconds reported in the press but it seemed longer, and then Ford admitted that he had. When asked if he had violated the City Code of Conduct, he said he “may have,” but “we all have skeletons in our closet….”
He was asked: “Do you have an addiction to alcohol? “Absolutely not.” “Do you have an addiction to illegal drugs?” “Absolutely not.” He insisted that he did drugs out of “sheer stupidity.” “In (the) photo, you seem to have a relationship with individuals who do not do good for the city?” He replied that he did not know them, he had met them only once, and never saw them again. On not cooperating with the police, he said he was doing so on the advice of his lawyer. When asked if he realized the implications of this position when he, as Mayor, was also the Chief Magistrate of the city, charged with encouraging at risk communities to cooperate with the police, he yelled that he was “a positive role model for kids. I have taken them under my wing hundreds of times….” When asked if the Chief Magistrate should walk the talk, he replied, “you listen to what your lawyer says.” Bingo… but he didn’t get it.
The debate on Wednesday focused on a motion put forth by Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong which “requested” the Mayor to apologize for lying about the existence of the video and for writing a letter of reference for an alleged drug dealer on city letterhead, to cooperate with the police, to answer questions put by Council directly and not in the press, and to take a leave of absence to deal with his personal issues. Everyone knew that Council was constrained by their existing statutory powers, that the motion was symbolic and that Council could not compel Ford to take a leave.
A minority of the Council wanted to “use the existing processes” and refer Ford’s conduct to the Integrity Commissioner requesting her recommendations for action by April, later amended to “as soon as possible and no later than February.” This amendment was defeated by a vote of 18-26. The majority thought, in my mind rightly, that the citizens of the City wanted a strong statement of condemnation from the Council now, and that, with all Ford’s admissions to date, there was no need for the Integrity Commissioner to determine if his conduct was discreditable. The answer was obvious.
Eventually, by a vote of 37-5, the symbolic “request” to the Mayor passed, with the amendment that the issues also be referred to the Integrity Commissioner for her recommendations. Her powers include the potential to recommend Ford’s suspension for three months without pay. It should be noted that one of the Councillors who opposed the motion was John Parker, who felt strongly that Ford should not take a leave, but should resign.
Shifting Public Opinion
Wednesday midday, Ford told City Council “as far as [he] knew… everything was out there.” By supper time, there was much more. Hundreds of pages originally redacted from the police Information to Obtain at court had been released, and the media, yet again, was dissecting line by line more details of Ford’s sordid history while in office. Yesterday, Mayor Ford, while speaking to the press, used unprecedented sexually explicit gutter language that was universally condemned. He later dragged his wife before the television cameras (for the first time since his election) to stand beside him as he apologized yet again. (“Apology not accepted,” said Councillor Minnan-Wong and others.) He threatened to sue his former staff who had spoken with the police. He also admitted he sometimes has been drinking and then driving.
Now the demand is not that he “step down for rehab” but that he resign. The Toronto Argonauts, the Santa Claus Parade officials and Mothers Against Drunk Driving are distancing themselves from the man who calls himself “Mayor.” All the Toronto papers are calling for his resignation. Just to stir the pot, and to prove that “law and order” types also stand up for “the little guy,” Sun Media has stepped up to provide the Ford brothers with a Monday night television slot to talk to “Ford Nation.” Some little guys. Some nation.
The Position of the Province
The Globe and Mail this morning called for the provincial government to remove Mayor Rob Ford from his office. Yesterday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn announced that the province could potentially step in with new statutory tools to oust the Mayor, IF City Council found that they could not function with Rob Ford persisting in office, IF they asked the province for specific new powers, and IF she had cooperation from the other provincial political parties. All three are big ifs.
City Councillors are in no mood to concede that, in “a weak mayor system,” they cannot work around a mayor who is isolated and without any influence on Council. This crisis has brought Council together in a manner not seen in recent years. Their actions Wednesday and today show that nonpartisan support can be obtained for stability and good government in the City. They say they have been doing “without the mayor” for much of the time up until now anyway. They say that the new situation merely limits the capacity of a dysfunctional titular mayor to harm the City or its official processes, and to prevent retaliation against Councillors doing their job. Given this evolving Council consensus, Minnan-Wong did not go forward on Wednesday with his proposed motion to ask the province to intervene.
At the provincial level, Premier Kathleen Wynn’s minority government faces the prospect of a likely spring election. Without all party support at the provincial level, she would be foolhardy to intervene. Both the NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, and the leader of the provincial Tories, Tim Hudak, have gone underground on this issue. Hudak had been courting the Fords previously, as had the Prime Minister of Canada. Now Hudak is invisible. The NDP would undoubtedly be happy to see Olivia Chow elected as the next Mayor of Toronto, a prospect which the polls say is increasing as Ford’s popularity wanes.
I indicated in my post on November 2nd that there is a clear need for updated legislation to expand the powers of municipalities to oust or recall an official who loses his legitimacy and brings his office into disrepute as has Mayor Ford. In my view, however, this should not be “one of” legislation, after the fact, directed only to the situation in Toronto. This is not a good precedent, nor is it good public policy. Whatever provincial legislation is introduced, it must have general application to all municipalities across the province. And it must be based on widespread consultation. Absent a party system when the leader of the party can be deposed by his caucus, unseating an elected official should be a difficult process. Updating the Municipal Act to provide local Councils with some mechanism to rid themselves of a discredited mayor or councillor, or to introduce a recall provision, will be a difficult operation. There is a delicate balance required between protecting the due process rights of the discredited official who refuses to resign, and the public right to hold their elected officials accountable at election times and also between elections. How to achieve that balance is not easy. And it will not, and should not, be done overnight.
The problem is squarely on the table. Where someone “pulls a Rob Ford,” what mechanisms should be in place to deal with that situation? Monitoring the Toronto situation will be a useful case study. Mayor Ford’s actions in Council, and those of his brother, speak for themselves. Is this going to be a year of ongoing bullying and blustering disruptions in Council meetings? Of vacuous motions intended to harass? Of ongoing lawsuits against the decisions of Council? “Working around the Fords” may be a Herculean task that will challenge the spirit of the Council and waste gobs of public money. Some actuary or economist should tally the incremental cost all the Ford saga has imposed on the public purse. All of this will be grist for the task of updated legislation at the appropriate time.
In the meantime, as I said previously, and as now seems to be a growing consensus, Ford’s failure to resign in the circumstances which he has brought upon the city, is proof positive that he is not fit for re-election. There are now 345 days until the next election… and counting.