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Engaging people in municipal politics – Metro US

Engaging people in municipal politics

There’s talk again in the corridors at Queen’s Park that what’s needed at Toronto City Hall and other city halls is a new law that sets term limits, that is, the number of times people can get elected to city council.

Sure, the Toronto city council crew looks like a tired bunch. Yes, 25 of the 45 members of city council have been sitting on the megacity or one of its predecessor councils for 10 years or more, having won the elections of 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2006. Eleven of those have served for 20 years or more. For them, being on council is a lifetime, permanent job.

I agree that it’s almost impossible to dislodge a councillor once elected. They have the advantage of holding well-paying public jobs (now $98,000 per year for each Toronto councillor), a publicly-funded, semi-annual newsletter to communicate with constituents, and an office staff that can deliver favours, which result in sign locations and supporters for the next election. Which outsider can compete with that?

People can get pretty lazy in a public job that doesn’t require much more than attending regular meetings and, if you want, sniping at some of the other councillors.

But if we say you are out after three elections, does that mean city hall will somehow be a better place? I’m not convinced the councillors elected for the first time in either 2003 and 2006 are a big improvement on those first elected in 1988. Some who have been on council for ages seem to have more energy than those who just got there.

Maybe term limits is just another fancy idea that doesn’t result in anything good. If we want city hall to be more open, more responsive to communities and more transparent, maybe we should rewind the megacity foisted on us in 1997 and get back to smaller wards, smaller councils, smaller municipalities and, probably, smaller costs.

If we want more people involved, maybe we should say that anyone who has lived here for two years or more can vote, whether they have citizenship or not.

Is it fair that they pay property taxes (through their rent) but can’t vote?

– John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto; torontoletters@metronews.ca.

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