Sunday, October 31, 2010 | Categories: Episodes
On Cross Country Checkup: municipal politics
Citizens in Calgary, Brandon, Toronto and Ottawa have rushed to install new mayors. Some say it's evidence voters are angry, and all politicians better take note.
How about you ...are you angry? How important are local politics?
With guest host David Gray.
I am so disappointed to see this weak and sensational narrative being repeated over and over again on the CBC of all places. Your headline for this week's topic could just have easily been 'citizens in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Guelph all reelected long-time Mayors, some say it's evidence that voters are content and all politicians should take note.'
Local politics are extremely important and so deserve to be taken as seriously and thoughtfully as any other level of government.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Montreal had its municipal elections a few months ago, and despite openly perceived corruption on the side of the municipal government and a terrible pothole problem that has gone on for many years now, Montrealers re-elected the Tremblay government. So, perhaps the municipal elections here came a few months before the "voter anger", or perhaps Montrealers just don't care enough about politics, and are willing to live with third-world infrastructure.
Dear Sir or Madam:
The City of Calgary is a said to be a Municipal Corporation in the Province of Alberta.
"A corporation is a fiction, by definition," according to Patrick Healy in a statement found in evidence provided to the Canadian Parliament's Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 2002. "A corporation is a 'fiction as it has no separate existence, no physical body and no 'mind'", according to Joanne Klineberg in a presentation to the Canadian Aviation Safety Seminar in 2004.
In the real world, how is it possible for any real natural person to be a new mayor of a fiction?
I would suggest that many of us are beginning to realize that local/municipal governments have more impact on our lives on a day-to-day basis that any MPP/MLA or MP. Mayors and councillors are far more accessible than provincial or federal office holders that citizens are able to petition locally for advances in environmental, social and cultural issues which eventually, in may cases, become legislation at the more "senior" levels of government.
Witness the efforts of one small Community, Hudson, Quebec, to ban pesticides and/or cosmetic chemicals to prevent these poisons from entering our aquifers. Only after 122 communities across Ontario passed similar by-laws did the provincial government decide to pass province-wide legislation. This initiative would never have been enacted by the provincial government unless it had been prompted by "grassroots" citizens' groups.
I don't believe anger is motivating the so-called "changes." The larger election turnouts are the result of our frustration with partisan, confrontational squabbling that passes for legitimate discourse in provincial and federal parliaments.
I live in Chelsea Quebec, one of those idyllic communities threatened by the relentless sprawl of nearby urban agglomeration. Every month we can feel the marching jackboots getting closer. For the past seven years, residents have lost every battle against the Council and the developers, For us, municipal politics isn't about getting our leaves picked up on time, which doesn't happen anyway. It's about trying to protect the life we love against a small but powerful group of money-baggers.
The reason I am an angry voter is that for a very long time now the amount of direct and indirect taxes I pay has steadily gone up, while at the same time the amount (and quality) of services I receive for these taxes I pay has steadily gone done. I would like to see more of the taxes I pay go towards the services I receive and less of the taxes I pay going towards the wants of the wide variety of special interest groups in Canada.
Vancouver, British Columbia
I think that if there is anger in the Canadian electorate it is, sadly, due to the divisive, wedge nature of politics practiced by our current Prime Minister - politics that the current government has imported from the U.S. Republicans, who have reduced the mid-term election there to a screaming match of hatred. It's time all Canadians, the political class included, started operating from a position that we're all in this together.
We do not need a new sewage treatment procedure in Victoria, to cost us nearly a billion dollars. Our twice-a-day huge tides in the Straight of Juan de Fuca do an almost perfect job of sewage dilution and removal. The science supports this but the politicians do not respond to this evidence.
We need correction of street storm drainage but we do not need a land-based treatment approach, simply because we live near a straight that does the job for us. We could do better about what we put into our drains and I support that, but we do not need a land-based treatment approach. We could spend a billion on our vulnerable homeless people, on the treatment of mental illness and addiction, on removal of deer and rabbits (such a simple problem). I am definitely angry about the ignoreance of what is important and what is already working well.
Victoria, British Columbia
I am very upset at the way the system operates. My vote is exploited by politicans and after the vote they do not care about my concerns. They do not want to hear from me. Therefore I will no longer vote because I am tired of being exploited.
Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia
Interesting that your right-wing pundit Kelly McParland exhibits selective amnesia about the root of Toronto's divided electorate - the Mike Harris government, which forcibly amalgamated Toronto with the suburbs. Costs were downloaded onto cities such as Scarborough, which previously had balanced budgets, all in the interest of Harris's across-the-board tax cuts. Harris abdicated in 2002 and left Ernie Eves with a huge deficit, leading to the fall of the Tory government to Dalton McGuinty.
Along comes Ford and his big brother Doug, a former Harris hack, selling again the notion that tax cuts will solve every problem, to suburbanites who have no concept of why bike lanes and street cars are important to lower income city people.
McParland thinks David Miller liked to spend money. No, Miller understood the areas that needed funding, unlike McParland and Ford, who will soon find out the hard way that city people will not accept a mayor that they consider illegitimate.
Today you are discussing why Canadians are so frustrated with their politicians as exemplified in the recent mayoral elections in Calgary and Toronto. I started listening to this program right after a news item which described the economy of Brazil as booming because 20 million people in Brazil have had their standard of living, i.e., real income, raised over the past decade. Yet all I hear from your callers is reference after reference to how we need to curtail spending. If you look at Canadian politics, you will see that this ethos of restriction and restraint permeates Canadian political thinking. This is the fundamental mistake on which the current reaction is based. Buckminster Fuller predicted a long time ago that economic modelling would show that increasing income across the board will increase economic performance, yet all we hear is the demand for curtailment, limitation, rationing and restriction. How can we expect to see expansion in such a political culture? More importantly, how can we reverse this situation?
Based on the Brazilian model, the answer is clear. Increase the capacity to spend at every level. How can we incorporate this into the Canadian economic model? First, we need to improve the efficiency of government spending. Second, we need to increase the tax home pay of Canadian taxpayers. We need to do this in a way that benefits most people, not just the rich, and the answer to this is clear - reduce taxation overall, but in a way that increases taxes for the rich while reducing taxes for the poor and the middle class, in such a way that the net effect is somewhat lower but significantly lower for the poor and the middle class, thus increasing and diversifying spending overall. Also eliminate corporate taxation altogether, since all corporate taxes are passed through to consumers. To do this we need to reform the progressive tax system. This is what will fix the frustration of Canadians, increase and diversify spending, benefit business and improve the performance of the economy overall.
I am questioning the level of anger in the country. Let's take Toronto. The day after the election "angry voters" were the talk in the papers, on radio and TV. Angry? Really? The turnout was about 50% and Rob Ford got about 50% of the vote. That means he got about 25% of the potential vote. That also means 75% of the electorate either was not angry enough to go vote, or did not join the angry vote. So reality check please. How angry are we really?
That Canadians are paying closer attention to their municipal governments and turning out in higher numbers for municipal elections is a very good sign. Given the immediacy and importance of the kinds of services municipal governments provide, Canadians should be concerned and engaged. But to infer, as you do in the theme for tonight's broadcast, that closer engagement in city politics is an indicator of voter anger is disingenuous and feels a lot like headline mongering. And recent city elections are a sign of our democracy's health, as the Calgary example so clearly shows, and shows in particular those who may have had less than positive view of Calgarians just how completely wrong they were. The Tea Party is the polar opposite of that. It is a vehicle for voter anger in the United States where (let's be honest) voters have plenty to be angry about.
Yes, Canadians are concerned about how their governments perform at all levels. Yes, Canadians know what accountability means, especially in public life. But 'angry'? I wouldn't confuse anger with being awake and attentive, and to exercising one's vote. Citizens in all of these recent elections, the ones who put their names forward for office, the ones that supported their campaigns, the ones that turned out for candidates' debates and town halls, and the ones that exercised their democratic birth right and voted - thank you, you make us all proud to be Canadian.
I am angry with politicos who manufacture anger for their own ends. No, the electors are not always right - they can be misled. And I'm angry with radio hosts with an obvious pro-Ford bias. He's imperiling Checkup's reputation for impartiality.
New Westminster, British Columbia
It's important for people to understand that municipalities are fundamentally non-profit organizations funded by federal and provincial grants (from taxes), development charges, property taxes (which increase as a result of and in proportion to development) and, increasingly, user fees. Given that reality and understanding the minicipalities' position at the bottom of the 'food chain', it's not difficult to appreciate that when federal and provincial governments are cutting provincial and municipal funding grants to reduce their taxes and cut their deficits, which has been happening since Paul Martin was Federal Finance Minister (and there are more rounds of cutting and downloading coming soon as they cut their recession stimulus budgets), their options are very limited. Their choices are to increase development, raise property taxes and/or raise user fees, or to drastically cut services.
Not surprisingly, all of these are unpopular to varying degrees, depending on the nature of the neighbourhood or district, particularly with high unemployment and low or no annual salary increases. Rising anger at the lack of more palatable options is one predictable consequence. If you think Torontonians are angry now, wait until they have experienced a few years under Mayor Ford - it will be really interesting to see how Mr. "end the gravy train at City Hall" Ford fares in this increasingly restrictive environment over the next three to four years, particularly in comparison to Mayor Nenshi of Calgary, who will probably do just fine.
Nanaimo, British Columbia
The only people who a vote counts for are those who get elected. My vote is used to justiy a very abusive system. All one needs to do is look at the corruption here in Nova Scotia by all parties. Then look at those MP's who rented apartments from their relatives and then took the biggest tax break they could by cheating the system. Trust who? Surely not a politician.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
The importance of municipal governments on the daily lives of their residents is beyond question. As stated on the program, we elect politicians essentially to spend money. The reality is that, just as all citizens live in a city, town or municipality, all businesses do as well.
Local government structures and decisions have a significant impact on the success of any business.
Since all tax revenue to all three levels of government are generated by businesses, the almost total absence of debate on wealth generation at the municipal level is quite distressing.
Candidates for all three levels of government, for the most part encounter the voter on the front steps his or her home. On these occasions there are few if any face to face discussions with the voter on how they earn an income and local issues their employer might be facing. We all pay a significant price for this gap in the political dialogue in Canada.
Sidney, British Columbia