Addressing the participants at a School4Civics networking event on September 15, Alan Broadbent argued that election campaigns should be an opportunity to put forward a compelling vision. However, the current municipal election campaigns, particularly in Toronto, are more focused on the negative, on what we should do less of, instead of how we can build a great city.
At the same time, he pointed out that it is important to be realistic. There’s only so much a mayor or councillor can do.
It is an unfortunate truth that cities are the invisible level of government and provinces have complete control over what cities can do. They can dictate obligations and responsibilities; they can even dismiss elected mayors and councils. They limit the sources of revenues for cities to property taxes and fees, but prohibit them from collecting the big, growth related income and sales taxes. This lack of powers and financial clout is a real problem. Our cities are trying to succeed with one hand tied behind their back.
This matters because we expect our mayors and councillors to have a vision of the city that we can move forward with and build on. But they are denied the access to the critical tools that allow them to get there (to build transit system we need, housing we need, etc.).
However, this shouldn’t excuse the lack of vision.
Fortunately, there has been a rise in civil society groups that are transforming the way people operate within the city. These groups are acting as catalysts for community conversation and engagement. Good examples include:
- Better Ballots
- People Plan Toronto
- Jane’s Walk
- The Tower Renewal Project
- The Toronto City Summit Alliance
- organizations like Maytree, Metcalf, Atkinson, the Wellesley Institute, and Laidlaw which support equity and prosperity across the region
No matter how the politics go, as long as we have a strong, resilient fabric of organizations like these, and engaged and concerned residents, we can be very hopeful that we have a wonderful ability to keep growing this city and making it great.
Listen to Alan’s speech here:
Download the mp3 (right-click to save to your computer).
Alan is the author of Urban Nation: Why We Need to Give Power Back to the Cities to Make Canada Strong.