As I drove home past the line-ups of still-to-vote voters, listening to the news that Ford was already elected, confirmed to me how broken our democracy is.
By Ben Bull
Published October 26, 2010
What a day! What an election. What a total waste of time.
It's hangover time here in Toronto. This morning we flipped over in bed to find Rob Ford lying next to us: What the hell have we done?
While Hamilton - Bob Bratina and Brenda Johnson notwithstanding - elected the status quo, Toronto's election was all about change.
I worked the polls last night as a scrutineer for Joe Pantalone's doomed-from-the-outset campaign and, our voting system being the anarchic 18th century institution it is, I had a lot of time to reflect on the events of the past few months.
As I studied the cobwebs on the church basement ceiling and waited for the election official to help me cross out some names, two main thoughts ran through my mind:
How many choices do we make with our hearts instead of our heads? Marriage? Relationships? Sure. These decisions generally pan out quite well. After all, you can't quantify or objectify beauty and attraction. It just feels right.
But how many other emotional choices fare so well? I've bought houses based on my gut. And changed jobs. Houses next to busy roads and half-way homes, jobs in healthcare and sales...my decisions have often led me to wonder - what the hell was I thinking? The answer, of course, is that I wasn't.
And so it is for many of us with elections. We see a candidate, we hear their sound bites and we note how they make us feel. Whether it be George Bush's folksiness, Bob Bratina's soothing tones, or Rob Ford's down-to-earth appeal (and yes, he does have an appeal) the emotion we feel helps us mark our ballot.
How do I know this? You may ask. Well, I don't. But my observations back me up. Why else would so many people I've spoken with compliment my candidate on his platform and integrity and yet vote for...anyone else?
"We just want change" they stress, as if 'change' was a platform in itself. Change is not a platform, it's an idea; an idea that generates an emotion.
Here in Toronto voters have felt the need to address their feelings. Sadly most of their feelings have been negative - frustration, anger, annoyance - and so they search for the only natural counteractive emotion: Change. And thus, a vote for Rob Ford becomes the electoral equivalent of a punch in the drywall.
When I left the Toronto polls at 7:30 pm last night, the line-ups were out the door and down the block. Even before the doors had closed (after 8 o'clock in many cases as those still in line at 8 pm were being allowed to vote) the CBC had declared a Ford landslide.
Of course, well before the polls even opened our various media outlets were telling what was going to happen and what we had to do. Given that it was all a foregone conclusion, you could be forgiven for asking yourself: Why bother?
Campaigning doesn't really help us make the best choice either. The truth is, and always has been, that campaigning is a branding exercise which bares little comparison to a real job interview. Do your research, craft your message, unveil your candidate, and sell, sell, sell. The real work of politicking can wait, and who really cares if your guy can do what he says anyway? It's all about wining!
Another reason not to vote is that our electoral processes are just so inane! This year the scrutineering rules were changed so that scrutineers - whose job it is to oversee the voting process on behalf of their candidate and to cross reference the names of their confirmed supporters with those who have voted - weren't allowed to flip through the voter records.
For me, and every other scrutineer on duty, this meant I had to look over the election officials' shoulders and watch them cross off every single name.
This presented a wealth of logistical challenges. As I was by myself, I had to try and track six separate election desks at the same time, one name at a time: Impossible!
Not surprisingly, I got nowhere.
My cause was lost then because, due to all the lost time, I was unable to call all of the missing supporters before the 8pm voting deadline.
I literally wasted a day.
As I drove home past the line-ups of still-to-vote voters, listening to the news that Ford was elected, confirmed to me how broken our democracy is. Broken not because my guy lost and Ford won - in truth, the choice in Toronto was never that great - but broken for all of the reasons noted above.
Broken because electing good people is just so bloody difficult.
We've talked at length here on RTH about how to upgrade our electoral system, both in the campaign stage and afterwards. A few recent comments on the site caught my eye and are worth a closer look.
Realfreeenterpriser writes: "If you REALLY want change on Council; double the wards, cut the wages in half (or less) and redistribute by population. That increases the voices on Council, eliminates the fulltime jobs AND brings back the element of public service."
I love this idea. It has often occurred to me that many elected officials are only in it for the money. At the federal and provincial level especially, the pension benefits are huge.
In many ways real change comes, not from our politicians, but from our community builders. And how much money do they get? Many of our social service, not-for-profit and activist folks are volunteers or low paid workers. And many of them are far more qualified to push the buttons of change in our council chambers than our current crop of iffily-elected politicos.
Of course there are many barriers to election. Campaigning is heavily reliant on name recognition, smart branding and, of course, money. Leveling the campaign playing field, perhaps by providing a maximum spending limit and offering tax funded advertising options, would go a long way to upping the quality of our candidates.
RTH commentator Pxtl doesn't like the pay cut idea: "Cut-rate councilors means politics are a sport for the rich or the easily-bought".
I disagree. Rich people have one important trait - they love making money. And because they are rich, they have most likely already found a way to make it. It's unlikely rich people are going to forgo any portion of their high paying day jobs to address garbage pick up complaints, flip through 200 page reports and sit on committees all day.
Yes, there is the possibility they could seek elected office to develop useful contacts and exert a profitable influence, but rich people already have other ways to achieve this - they sponsor our councilors!
Again, I like these ideas. Perhaps we could combine the smaller ward/part-time councilor model with IRV and an enhanced power structure to the Mayor's office. IRV at least gives me the opportunity to make my vote count. And a strong Mayor gives me the opportunity to vote for a mandate and see it carried out.
BeulahAve's ideas are equally well thought out: "I like a model where at least some representatives have an interest in multiple wards or even the city as a whole. Part of what makes our Council dysfunctional is that everyone but the mayor is watching out for their own ward."
They've tried this Councillor-at-large model in other cities, like Boston, which has four city-wide representatives. Again, I like this idea but I have to confess, I don't know how well it works. Perhaps some RTH commentators could illuminate me?
It's going to be an interesting four years in Toronto. I fully expect Rob Ford and his cronies to decimate the town, or at least try. The city will march backwards and the left, once again, will unite.
Meanwhile Hamilton has Bob Bratina, Brenda Johnson and then, well, pretty much the same old crew. But Hamilton also has RTH and an ever-evolving community spirit and sense of impending achievement. Perhaps the Hammer's time is now?
Alas, Toronto's time, thanks to our emotional electorate and broken democracy, is a long way ahead.
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