Predicting Hurricane Doug’s path of destruction

Posted on in Governance Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
Aug. 8, 2018.   By

Premier Doug Ford was only sworn into office on June 29, but already he’s embarked on a series of actions that presage a major tropical storm for Ontario.

Having analyzed the fallout from the province’s last right-wing government, I expect the damage wrought by Hurricane Doug will be particularly harsh for two specific and often intersecting constituencies: urban progressives and women.

Let’s consider Mike Harris’s track record as leader of two consecutive PC majority governments. Elected in 1995, Harris-era Conservatives endorsed lower taxes and cost-cutting in their calls for “less government,” “fewer politicians,” and “less overlap and duplication.” The Tory platform known as the Common Sense Revolution promised to “spend more efficiently” because, in Harris’s words, the party would trim “a lot of fat, a lot of waste.”

Arguably the most consequential decision of the Harris years for Canada’s largest city was sharp, rushed and unexpected. The move announced in December 1996 to eliminate borough and metropolitan government in Toronto rejected the recommendations of at least two expert reports, including one produced by a panel the PCs themselves commissioned. Harris’s government also ignored the results of a local referendum on amalgamation in 1997 in which 76 per cent of Toronto voters opposed plans for a megacity.

 

Doug Ford’s proposal to create a Toronto city council with 25 members echoes Harris’s record of reducing elected urban representatives from more than 100 before amalgamation to 44 by 2000. It is also entirely consistent with the PC mantra dating from 1995 that streamlining and efficiency trump democratic deliberation.

The implications of that approach remain far-reaching. Not only did the Harris PCs dramatically reduce welfare benefits, weaken rent controls and chop education funding in the name of cutting costs, but also they downloaded to fiscally strapped municipalities responsibility for child care, social housing and transit.

By empowering conservative suburban voices (like those of Mel Lastman and the Fords) at city hall under the megacity scheme, Harris’ strategy flattened the hose that carried funds for social programs at the same time as it limited chances for competing perspectives to challenge the Tory maelstrom.

In a 2006 book called Tales of Two Cities, I assessed divergent urban restructuring directions in London, U.K., and Toronto. Britain’s New Labour government of 1997 restored municipal decision-making in London after it had been shut down in the Thatcher years. The early consequences of renewing local control included measurable growth in the numbers of women from diverse backgrounds in senior municipal positions and the release of a city plan that considers how spatial development shapes the employment, child care and housing opportunities of varied groups of Londoners.

Starkly different results emerged in Toronto. From holding two of the six mayoral posts on the old Metro Council, women disappeared as executive decision-makers in Canada’s largest city. From about a quarter of borough council and a third of Metro Council seats in 1996, proportions of elected women tended to stagnate or decline.

As of 2018, the representation of women on Toronto City Council is lower than in the last Metro Council of 22 years ago. The spatial plan governing amalgamated Toronto stresses nodes for highrise development and fails to consider how working women, new arrivals to the city or any other group of citizens might experience an increasingly dense and tense urban landscape.

Similar to the situation in the late 1990s, progressive critics of the Ford government will find fighting back is difficult when the game of musical chairs is stacked in such a way as to silence their voices.

It is already hard for local candidates — notably women from diverse ethnocultural and sexual orientation backgrounds — to win elections when we have an orderly, predictable system in place. Imagine trying to mount a campaign when chaos is intentionally created by a provincial government with nearly carte-blanche constitutional powers.

Hurricane Doug begins with a simple, brazen focus on streamlining debate out of the political calculus. Urban citizens with a democratic vision live in the eye of a very dangerous storm.

Sylvia Bashevkin teaches political science at the University of Toronto.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/08/08/predicting-hurricane-dougs-path-of-destruction.html

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