Learning lessons from the Toronto civic workers’ strike is not nearly as easy as it seems.
You can’t say there were winners and losers since neither the city administration nor the city unions got what they wanted. Both had to compromise to reach a settlement.
Neither city leaders nor union leaders came away looking like heroes, but on the other hand they don’t look like sellouts. City residents wanted services, city workers wanted pay cheques, and there is nothing wrong with bowing to those pressures.
We learned how unpopular Mayor David Miller is with editors and columnists for newspapers, radio and television. Either he wasn’t bargaining hard enough or, when the settlement came, he gave away too much. They wanted someone to blame and he was the guy. City council wasn’t as much of a problem in their eyes as Mayor Miller.
You can see why they took that position. City council is such a large unwieldly collection of 45 people that it is difficult for any individual to have political clout — except for the mayor. Only the mayor has the resources to pull together enough councillors to craft a majority of votes.
The size of the megacity council gives the mayor a political dominance that the media recognized during the strike. He’s the linchpin, for good or bad. That kind of power never existed for mayors in the smaller six councils in the GTA before the megacity.
Having a council so big that the power flows into the hands of one person, the mayor, could be a recipe for disaster. That didn’t happen during this strike, indeed the city continued to function rather well. But the concentration of power is a concern that needs to be addressed.
What we should learn from the strike is that it’s time to rethink the large megacity as the best way to govern the neighbourhoods that make up the city called Toronto. Maybe we should return to smaller councils interrelated in some kind of two-tier structure to protect us from the dangers of one person having too much power and influence.
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