MAYORS are the stars of the show in municipal politics. While it’s somewhat crass to compare local government to entertainment, it’s equally naive to pretend performance is not part of the job.
In October, voters across Ontario will play casting director for a show that will have a four-year run.
In Thunder Bay, we have 11 candidates seeking the big chair.
That’s a lot and the candidates represent a healthy mix that range from political novices to seasoned veterans.
All seem to have the requisite good intentions, but voters should wonder about the reason for their pursuit of the mayoralty.
Ego plays a role.
To choose the mayor’s race over the council races means the candidate feels they need a position of prominence.
A good mayor leads the agenda and sets the tone for much of council business. People with vision to point to a destination and slash a path to it must have a healthy confidence if they are to be followed. That’s good ego.
Those intrigued by the job to merely speak with the loudest microphone and hold the giant scissors at ribbon cuttings need not apply. That’s bad ego.
When decisions are made, the mayor’s vote is only one of 13. It counts for no more or no less than that of a ward or at-large councillor. Lots of great work gets done by the other 12 members of council, so to think goals are only achievable as mayor is foolish. Conversely, a good mayor can be undermined by a bad set of councillors.
The candidates for mayor need to be mindful that they’re part of a team. Voters need to recognize which candidates for mayor have the humility to accept that role. The voters also need to be diligent in the rest of their choices for council to ensure whatever mayor is selected has a good supporting cast.
There’s some speculation the job of mayor may become more powerful over the course of this term. Newly installed Premier Doug Ford has mused about changing the rules by giving mayors veto powers, as is done in many major U.S. cities, like New York.
The premier’s late brother, Rob Ford, was often frustrated by having his own agenda thwarted by council. Action to cut Toronto council in half shows Ford is ready, willing and anxious to make radical moves.
While not wanting the power to veto council decisions, Toronto Mayor John Tory has expressed support for some kind of increased empowerment, pointing to the city’s recent gun violence as an example where quick, decisive action from a strong mayor could help.
There’s some merit to having more powerful mayors. Far too many voters treat choosing the rest of council as an afterthought. As long as that’s the case, maybe more power should be in the hands of the one person that voters commit the greatest deliberation in making their choice.
However, the potential for mayors to have more power is a reason voters need to be mindful of all their decisions. The benefits of a mayor with more power can only be fully realized with a good council to support or question his or her actions.