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Opinion

Let your voice be heard as city institutions choose leaders

Published on 11/12/2014

Many cities in Canada have just concluded their election, putting in place the mayors and city councils which will lead them in the coming years. The electoral process has been public, with eligible voters given the opportunity to cast ballots and the media covering the races. So it can be said that we’ve got the leaders we deserve.

There are other critical leadership positions which will be filled in the coming months which are important to our communities but where we have less direct influence. For the most part, we ignore these selections even if we are aware of the processes currently underway.

But should we ignore them? If these leaders are going to have a significant influence on our communities, maybe we should find a way to express our views, either as individuals or groups within society.

For example, Toronto is going to get a new police chief in 2015. Who the new chief will be really matters to Toronto and its many neighbourhoods and communities.

In many ways the current chief Bill Blair has been a very good leader of the police service: he has diversified the force so it looks more like the communities it serves; he has built community policing to connect officers more effectively to residents; and he has brought modern communication technology to policing to prevent crime and increase community safety. The city would benefit greatly from a new chief who could take the very best of Chief Blair’s reforms and build on them in the coming decade.

The Toronto Police Services Board will make the choice. An international search is now underway to assemble a long list of names for short listing and interviews before the Board makes its choice.

But the public can also have its say. Unfortunately the first set of public consultations have for the most part been poorly attended. There are still opportunities for interested citizens and groups to contact the Board, and its members, to register views on what we should be looking for in our new chief. An online survey has been developed to solicit views.

My own view is that if we want a progressive city, we need a progressive police chief.

Ryerson University is searching for a new president to replace Sheldon Levy, who has announced his retirement. You might think this is merely Ryerson’s business to choose its academic leader, but you only have to look at President Levy’s achievements to see what an enormous impact a visionary and innovative university leader can have on a city and its neighbourhood. While his leadership within the University has been impressive, his city building has been magnificent. In his decade leading Ryerson, the east side of Yonge Street has been absolutely transformed.

What if Ryerson were to choose someone who wasn’t skilled or interested in this aspect of university leadership? Might not the whole city suffer?

Two cultural institutions are also looking for new leaders, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Luminato Festival. While neither of these institutions has a reputation in city building beyond their usual contributions to the cultural life of the city, shouldn’t they aspire to? Shouldn’t the leaders of our cultural institutions engage more in the life of the city beyond cultural concerns and help address issues like, say, youth unemployment or economic development? If so, their boards need to include that lens in their vision of the next leader.

And then there is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) which is seeking to replace its highly touted CEO Tim Leiweke. MLSE teams may flounder on the ice or soccer pitch, but the organization has been a champion at real estate development, contributing to a thriving sporting precinct south of Union Station. Its new CEO will likely be chosen by the MLSE board with an eye to keeping real estate profits at the top of the league. It would also be nice if MLSE could pay more attention to the spirit of the city it calls home by creating champions in sport, particularly on the ice where the iconic Leafs have had a dry spell for close to half a century. In a hockey mad city, this amounts to a betrayal of a public trust. There is no shortage of Leaf fans ready to make this pitch, but is the MLSE listening with more than a cynical ear?

Leadership takes place across a city region in government, cultural and entertainment organizations, institutions, and community organizations. Good leaders like Sheldon Levy or Bill Blair have a way of engaging broadly to make the city a better place. The city will feel let down if their institutions choose successors who aren’t attentive to city building as part of their job. We should all be attentive to the choices being made and not be shy in letting the institutions in question know our views.

Summary

Leadership takes place across a city region in government, cultural and entertainment organizations, institutions, and community organizations. Many of these critical leadership positions are filled with less direct influence from residents.

Topic(s)

Cities and communities, Civic engagement