Publications, opinions, and speeches
The Problem With Campaigning Against Cities
Published on 24/09/2010
It is hard to believe what a terrible city Toronto has become. One candidate says we can’t take care of the 2.5 million people who live here. Another warns darkly about “more of the same” that has left us in “the current mess.” Only one, the deputy mayor who is carrying the legacy of the incumbent regime, is upbeat on the city, but he gets drowned out in the raucous litany of abuse. Failure lurks around every corner, financial collapse is at hand, dispirit darkens every city street.
It is a bad time generally for cities in Ontario as municipal elections heat up, because in almost every city most of the candidates are running against the city where they want to be mayor or councillor. Cities are portrayed as serial failures, fiscal nightmares, administrative disaster zones, and places which fail citizens day after day.
And it all happened so fast, it all went downhill so quickly. It started with a few members of the commercial press, expressing outrage over every wandering penny at city hall, ready to out every fiscal villain for buying an espresso instead of a Tim’s. Penny pinching became heroic, the hair shirt was civic reform in action, and the race to the bottom began.
Yet we must be doing something right. Toronto keeps rising in the world ranking of cities as a financial powerhouse and a great place to live. As The Telegraph UK recently wrote, “Toronto nowadays is a progressive and welcoming city with a thriving economy, flourishing arts scene and renowned cuisine. Its education and healthcare provision are among the best in the world.” Other Ontario cities also keep improving. We deliver, with few problems, clean water, electricity, ploughed roads, social goods and services, excellent public health, and a broad range of infrastructure. It isn’t perfect, but it is very good; particularly compared to other places in other countries.
Some people call election campaigns “the silly season” because of the overblown narratives to which candidates resort. Most of the aspirants run against the government they hope to lead or serve. We would be smart to take campaign rhetoric with a grain of salt. But we, and the candidates, should also consider that the relentless portrait of failure can distort what is actually a much more positive story, and can create a narrative that curtails both the human energy and resources for further improvement and change. As we head into the last six weeks of municipal campaigns across the province, candidates might want to consider the lasting damage their words might cause.