Monday, January 12, 2009

Term Limits for Toronto City Council

The city advertised the next stage of amalgamating signage the other day in the paper. Wow, at this rate, it might be the 22nd century when they get it all done. Meanwhile, as The Toronto Star pointed out on January 3rd, the current plethora of signage reflects our city's attitude of "the audacity of nope." It isn't just the multiplicity of signs on a pole that are so confusing, it's the whole idea that we are intrinsically bad and we need to be disciplined with the rod, else we shall be spoiled like citizens in other countries who get to use their own discretion. The more they tell us what we cannot do, the more they feel empowered to do more, and are now on an anti-human spree. The latest foray into disciplining us is the proposed bylaw to restrict smoking in outdoor spaces. There is such a thing as going too far, you know.
Marcel Danesi, a semiotics professor at the University of Toronto who's spent a lifetime studying symbols' meanings, thinks the tone of so many local signs might reflect an increasingly secular world.

"This was the stuff of the priests who populated my childhood and adolescence, but now it's the politicians and those people out there who try to impose," he says. "That official level ... has taken over from God, hasn't it?" (

There is so much wrong with Toronto that I could write endless paragraphs detailing where Eggleton started our derailment, how Premier Mike Harris spread it to other boroughs, and why Miller continues that legacy, but it's depressing. I used to love living here, feeling all puffed up about how the world tracked to our door to learn from us. No longer. Now it's a burden, requiring much help to navigate the rules, making me want to curl up in a chair and ignore the nightmare outside. Something has to change.

I agree with Christopher Hume: we need term limits for both mayor and councillors. Perhaps two terms for a total of 8 years. Twelve is just a bit too long. And perhaps we should also elect alternating sets of 22 councillors every 2 years so that the council becomes a balance of fresh and experienced (heard this idea on CFRB). The problem of councillors becoming moribund in their seats stems from the fact that citizens lack the knowledge, motivation, and imagination to kick the familiar out and try the new. There are rare exceptions to the long-term politician being incapable of action and pro-human ideas -- Hurricane Hazel being one, who continues to look to how to improve Mississauga for her constituents even challenging her own assumptions from the past -- but most politicians get stale and slow, the bureaucracy mimics that, and so NO-YOU-CAN'T signs multiply like cockroaches while the old ones remain unamalgamated. Only term limits can force out the self-righteous and do-nothings and bring in fresh faces with challenging ideas who will reinvigorate Toronto. We need politicians who love Toronto more than ideology. We will never get that while the fat asses of smug councillors and mayor remain glued in their council seats. We need term limits.

4 comments:

James Bow said...

I don't like term limits as a rule. The only people who should be limiting politicians terms are the people who decide to elect someone else. I don't need a piece of paper telling me who I can or cannot vote for.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

When I first heard the idea, I wasn't so sure I liked it either. Some politicians do so much good that we shouldn't have restrictive rules requiring them to leave office. But -- this is not the case in Toronto and hasn't been for decades. I'm not suggesting term limits for all municipalities, just Toronto.

People here vote for those names they recognize, ie, incumbents or known party affiliations that they recognize through the colours on the campaign signs. It's so bad a thoughtful voter wonders why bother voting? The majority always vote the same. Fresh blood usually comes in when an incumbent retires, not because the electorate want someone better or get fed up with incompetence or corruption. Our Councillors are comfortable. Comfortable politicians are not good.

James Bow said...

I think you're selling voters short. It should remain their responsibility to clean out the dead weight in council, and if you don't think they're doing that, it's just as likely that you simply don't agree with what other voters think. That's unfortunate, but that's also democracy.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Well, with voter turnout only about 40 percent, I don't think I'm selling voters short. Their first responsibility, before marking the ballot, is getting themselves to the voting booth. They're not even doing that. I wonder how democratic the results really are when so few turn out.

I'm not alone in disagreeing with how the elections go. Leaving aside political leanings, I really don't understand voters who bring back in less-than-honest councillors who obviously skate a fudgy line ethically. Do they not care their representatives are in it more for themselves than for their constituents or do they not pay attention?

Frank McKenna was right and courageous to state that 10 years is long enough to serve -- unlike Toronto politicians, he didn't want to grow moribund.