The admission of political parties to municipal politics might be a cure that’s worse than the disease.
Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Norm Sterling suggested recently that councillors should run under party banners: “I think the problem in big cities is that they do not have political party structure. The councillors never present a vision for the city. They talk about stop signs, they talk about playgrounds, they talk about bus stops.”
One could say “vision” is not conspicuously plentiful in our federal or provincial governments either, and if anyone needed a reminder that parties can also be fractious and disorderly creatures, Sterling’s idea was publicly shot down by his Tory caucus mate Bill Murdoch.
And stop signs, playgrounds and bus stops are, after all, what cities are made of. Like it or not, this is part of the business of city council. You say parochial, I say local.
Yes, voter interest and turnout is low in municipal elections, but the addition of party labels might encourage us to tune out even more. Voting could be no more than picking your favourite colour of campaign sign instead of bothering to hear a candidate’s actual ideas.
The Montreal Gazette’s Henry Aubin, given his city’s experience with municipal parties, is unenthused: “I have one word of advice to people in the rest of Canada who express a desire for parties: Beware. Municipal parties are one of the main reasons for Montreal’s lack of vision and inertia.”
Bloc voting, big money campaigns funded by real estate money and power concentrated in the hands of party bosses are only some of the ills Aubin lays at the feet of the Montreal machines.
The system allegedly works better in Vancouver, if you don’t mind decades of same-old, same-old. Of the 72 years since its founding, the right-of-centre Non-Partisan Association has held power for 55. One of the knocks against Ottawa’s municipal politics is the power of incumbency. In the past two elections, every single councillor who stood for re-election won.
The Vancouver formula, however, seems to offer little relief.
And political parties are already here in all but name. The parties aren’t officially involved, but former mayor Bob Chiarelli was before that a Liberal MPP and had countless Grits on his team.
Larry O’Brien’s troubles with Terry Kilrea all boiled down to competition for small and big-C conservative votes, volunteers and money.
I remain unconvinced that what our admittedly less-than-harmonious city council needs is an injection of the dysfunctional partisan gong show we see on Parliament Hill.
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