Is Having Fewer Municipal Politicians Good For Our Democracy?

“A millionaire premier may be happy with fewer elected representatives but it’s very hard to see how it could mean more power for citizens or better representation of their interests and concerns.”

A Message from CATCH – the public watchdog group Citizens at City Hall – in Hamilton, Ontario

Posted September 19th, 2018 on Niagara At Large

Hamilton, Ontario – The 14-year experience of CATCH has found municipal councillors to be mainly decent over-worked individuals making hundreds of important decisions about people’s lives. They pay attention and respond to public concerns raised between elections. Those democratic features don’t seem to be valued in the current controversy swirling around Queen’s Park.

The visible issue is the Conservative government’s attempt to reduce Toronto city councillors from 47 to 25. That includes overriding a court ruling that blocked the reduction move for violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The persistence of their actions indicates the Conservative conviction that many people aren’t concerned about having fewer elected municipal councillors or about the right to be effectively represented. If a basis for that view wasn’t there, the governing party would be unlikely to go to such extreme lengths to pursue its objective.

The court ruling specifically states that the provincial government council-cutting action “denies effective representation” to the residents of Toronto because if approved it would mean only one councillor for each 115,000 residents of Toronto.

A similar reduction applied to Hamilton would eliminate 10 of the 15 council seats. In many smaller communities it would reduce local councils to one person or less and leave the entire province of 13 million people with only 124 municipal councillors.

Would we be better off – would things be more democratic – if the Ontario government did what it is doing in Toronto and emptied more council seats across the province?

It is unclear how Canada’s largest city can operate independently if it has no more members than there are provincial legislators representing the same residents, or how in the long run it will make any sense to maintain a municipal government separate from the provincial one.

The premier’s response to the court decision was to dismiss the judge as merely appointed not elected. This seems contradictory to his party’s decision to disrupt Toronto’s election and slash its council size, but again it is clearly expectant of public support.

That suggests there is a widespread belief that democracy is only about elections and their outcomes. That is also indicated by the government’s failure to consult the public before rewriting Toronto’s municipal process. Democracy appears reduced to an occasional opportunity to vote.

These viewpoints supporting the provincial government actions and justifications draw heavily on public frustration with how politicians are seen to behave. But it seems a safe bet that a politician who wants fewer politicians is not a friend of democracy or the public.

It’s obvious, though not often mentioned, that fewer politicians means more power for the remaining ones. The premier calls this being more efficient.

Now that Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford has slashed the size of municipal government in Toronto, will Hamilton or Niagara be next?

More certainly it also means more power for non-politicians like corporate lobbyists. A millionaire premier may be happy with fewer elected representatives but it’s very hard to see how it could mean more power for citizens or better representation of their interests and concerns.

Significantly, the impact on democracy and representation are also taking a back seat in the media along with some provincial opposition politicians. Instead the government’s actions are mainly characterized as a personal vendetta against some Toronto councillors. That ‘explanation’ feeds the cynical view that politicians are bad, that the fewer we have the better, and that politics is a nasty game best avoided by the public.

In his book 1984, George Orwell described a double-think totalitarian state where most of the population accepted “the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.”

Greater numbers of disengaged citizens in this instance seem to facilitate the Conservatives’ actions and beliefs. The framing of the council reduction issue as a vendetta may mean even more disengagement and diminished democracy.

A millionaire premier may be happy with fewer elected representatives but it’s very hard to see how it could mean more power for citizens or better representation of their interests and concerns.

About CATCH – CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) is a volunteer community group that encourages civic participation in Hamilton. Our members attend and report on meetings of city councillors and other City committees, and carry out related research and activities.

CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) updates use transcripts and/or public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media. Detailed reports of City Hall meetings can be reviewed at hamiltoncatch.org .

You can receive all CATCH free updates by sending an email to http://hamiltoncatch.org/newsletter/ ?p=subscribe .

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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One response to “Is Having Fewer Municipal Politicians Good For Our Democracy?

  1. YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like

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