On Monday, Mayor-for-now Rob Ford will appear in court to appeal the decision removing him from office. If he’s unsuccessful, he’s fired, likely before the end of the month. Which raises the question of what to do then.
Over at Post City Magazines, former mayor (and my former Eye Weekly colleague) John Sewell suggests an election isn’t worth it:
If the court upholds the decision to remove him from office, a byelection would cost about $10 million. A cost that would be incurred entirely because of Mayor Ford’s actions. I would argue it is money that should not be spent, particularly given the cuts to social and other programs city hall claims it must make to balance a budget.
Better for city council to appoint someone to the post, someone who can give us the other aspects of democracy: informed and intelligent debate, civility and respect, respect for the law, a sense of the public good.
I’m not sure I agree with Sewell. I’m not sure I disagree with him, either.
$10 million is a lot to spend on an election–we’re not sure of the exact amount, because in addition to fixed costs like staffing polling stations and whatnot, a lot of the expense comes from the city reimbursing people for campaign donations, and we’ll have to see how much is raised before we know how much that will cost. As Sewell points out, this is money that will be spent to run an election caused directly by Rob Ford’s actions, and yet it is still one he could win (however unlikely that scenario appears).
Still, it seems to me that elections are useful specifically to set the general direction of a democracy. In a system like the one we have at City Hall, with fixed election dates, this usually happens periodically by default. But in a traditional parliamentary system, it happens whenever it is determined that a government’s mandate has run out. Sometimes the parliament calls the election by defeating the government in a vote. Sometimes the government dissolves parliament to go to the voters to seek a new mandate. Plausibly, they might do this when a big issue that comes up or the circumstances of the world change such that the government needs the consent of voters to have legitimacy in a certain course of action.
It seems to me that at City Hall, we’ve reached a point where conditions have changed (the mayor being removed and all) and council could use some clarification from voters about what, exactly, the mandate is supposed to be. Rob Ford achieved his goals in some areas (the vehicle registration tax, union bargaining) but failed to do so because a majority of democratically elected concillors overruled him in other areas (transit) and found the situation different from what he promised it was in other areas (the billions of dollars in gravy he based him campaign on was never found). And now we’ve been left at a bit of a strange crossroads. Even if Ford wasn’t being kicked out, there’s a sense I get that the last election result doesn’t really apply anymore–given reality, it’s difficult to determine what people’s wishes are.
Add that the mayor is being removed, and I think there’s a strong case to be made that it’s time for the voters to weigh in on who the new mayor should be, and what his or her marching orders are. And if that costs $10 million, then so be it–council is making decisions about tens of billions of dollars of current and future city money, after all.
On the other hand, the timing could be better. Let’s say we get a decision booting Ford from office on January 31. Then council has to declare the seat vacant at it’s meeting February 20. After that, they have 60 days to decide if they want to call an election, which takes us to an election call, potentially, on April 21. That would be a 45-day campaign, which gives us an election day at the end of July.
The new mayor would then be sworn in and begin his or her first meeting in August, and would govern for approximately four months before nominations open for the next regularly scheduled election, to be held in 2014. That’s not a lot of time to govern at all–it’s hardly time to appoint a staff and become familiar with where the washrooms are at City Hall. Suddenly that $10 million, and the time it takes to make the decision, starts to look a lot like a big waste. What we’d experience, as a city, is something like a two-year campaign featuring two elections and almost no governing.
(And that’s leaving aside political calculations: for many reasons, we might expect that an interim election would give Olivia Chow a huge advantage. Ford supporters might hate that idea, but Ford opponents who might want to run for mayor also might hate that idea, since a Chow victory would shut them out for five to eight years.)
The alternative that city council has available, as Sewell notes, is appointing an interim mayor to serve until the 2014 election.
The problem becomes figuring out who that might be. For reasons that should be obvious, council would not want to appoint anyone who plans to run for the permanent mayor’s job in 2014. Which likely rules out Shelley Carroll, Adam Vaughan, Karen Stintz, Rob Ford and possibly Michael Thompson.
Council’s various factions would probably also want someone who appears kind of politically neutral: the anti-Ford squad is unlikely to assent to appointing a hardcore Ford supporter since they think the will of the people has changed and Ford himself has voided his mandate; Ford’s loyalists are unlikely to agree to appoint a sworn enemy since they still think the mandate of the last election means voters deserve a cost-cutter as mayor. So count out Doug Ford, Frances Nunziata, Peter Milczyn, Gord Perks, Janet Davis, Pam McConnell–and pretty much most of the other councillors you can actually name.
One problem with the “middle”–the swing voters on this council–is that almost all of them are fairly inexperienced. Jaye Robinson, Josh Colle, Josh Matlow, Mary Margaret McMahon… these people just arrived on council in 2010.
Raymond Cho would have looked possible to some (though in truth he’s too anti-Ford) but now he’s running for the Ontario Tories provincially. Chin Lee might have left-right cred and experience, but I don’t get the sense he’s ever taken much of a leadership role on anything.
John Parker’s name gets tossed around, and he’s possible, I suppose, though installing the guy who personally removed the Jarvis bike lanes would carry some heavy symbolism. Doug Holyday, though a very loyal Ford supporter, might—might—attract enough support given that he’s the deputy mayor under Rob Ford and appointing him would seem like the default option, the equivalent of choosing to do nothing. But then Holyday himself has been stumping to appoint Rob Ford back into the job, which is the worst of all possibilities.
Council could appoint an outsider, though that person would have a steep learning curve to ascend quickly in order to get anything accomplished before the next election begins and half of council starts running for the job themselves–or against whoever is sitting in the chair.
John Tory’s name comes up, but he’d have to first decide he wanted to disrupt his life enough to take the job for only a year and a half, and he’d also have to decide he didn’t want to run for the job in 2014. Neither of those decisions appears clear-cut, and Tory himself is famously not much of a decider.
David Crombie is a choice I’ve mentioned before–one endorsed on Twitter by councillor Josh Matlow–though he seems a longshot by virtue of now being considered a pinko by many (despite his history as a Progressive Conservative) and by virtue of having been an elder statesman, out of active politics, for a long, long time. It’s not clear he’d want to tarnish that role, or that a majority of council would want to ask him to.
Who’s left? A lot of wildcards.
So I come back to Sewell’s proscription: “Better for city council to appoint someone to the post, someone who can give us the other aspects of democracy: informed and intelligent debate, civility and respect, respect for the law, a sense of the public good.” That sounds very nice. But does such a person exist? I mean, that a majority of council would actually embrace?
PHOTO: STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR