Municipal Election 2006

Municipal Political Parties

By Ben Bull
Published October 21, 2006

A new municipal political party is being formed in Toronto. The Toronto Party plans to recruit and run candidates in all Toronto wards for the 2010 election.

Sound familiar? Hamilton's Community Action Network was formed last year with the same purpose – to create a city-wide vision and find candidates to support it.

A Royston James article in today's Toronto Star highlights the difficulties municipalities have following a common vision. He cites the current ward based system as the root of the problem, complaining:

James advocates a municipal political party system. This is similar to the approach taken in the UK and I have to say I have my doubts about adding more bureaucracy and secrecy into our municipal governance structure. I prefer the model CAN has touted, that of SPUR and COPE, where citizen/council partnerships are formed and a common vision is crafted.

One thing's for sure: if the mundane elections in Hamilton and Toronto are anything to go by, come November 14th something will have to change.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By adrian (registered) | Posted October 21, 2006 at 23:34:36

A friend of mine has suggested something along these lines but taken a step farther: a municipal party that runs at the federal level. Think of the Hamilton Party, running candidates for MP in a federal election.

You get $1.75 per vote now, so there is no reason a party like this could not take off to some extent. Why not create a party that will at the minimum force federal candidates to explain their vision for your city and outline how they plan to solve the city's problems?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 22, 2006 at 09:13:20

"Toronto is being run by the Mayor and the Mayor's party (NDP) cronies."

I have a couple of thoughts on this. First, the NDP, like any political party, is a mixed bag at the municipal level. For every unthinking hack like Terry Whitehead, you also have smart, hard-working, decent politicians like David Christopherson and Andrea Horwath.

Second, at least in Hamilton, the dominant party is the Liberals, not the NDP. Of course, one major area where the Liberals and NDP can agree is in sprawl construction, which benefts both their constituencies (as contractors/suppliers and as construction workers) and generates plenty of revenue for them, some of which is then fed back into the political system to keep their champions in power for another round.

Finally, Ben's description of the COPE/SPUR model is really the way all political parties are supposed to operate. Instead, they inevitably operate from a strictly heirarchial, top-down model where a small executive of planners and strategists creates a message and then enforces party discipline.

Probably the only political party that strays from this model is the federal Green Party, which has developed its platform according to an at least partly decentralized process.

Jim Harris, a former Tory, had done much to shift the Green Party's centre of gravity up toward the executive (and to shift the party politically to the right), even appointing former Conservatives to key planning positions.

It remains to be seen to what extent Elizabeth May, the new GPC leader, will shape the Party's political culture.

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By getridofandywells (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2008 at 18:32:13

Well, you can always go to:

to find out about real politics in Canadian cities.

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By MarkState (registered) - website | Posted February 12, 2008 at 06:35:24

As I understand the concept, party politics is a "damned if you do, and damned if you don't" method of governance; since on its positive side, it provides a cadre of quasi-like-minded individuals who can, if they have the vision, make positive changes for the electorate; but who --on the negative side-- often don't because the PARTY takes over by placing the struggle for re-election as its highest priority from its inception.

There are strategists (caucus, cabinet, advisory boards) who determine on a case-by-case basis which needs of the public [and even how much of each need] will and will not be supported through the development of 'policy'. Otherwise civic-minded politicians are forced to subjugate their efforts on behalf of their constituents to support the party's voting direction.

Where the idea of party politics wins is the very infrequent occasion when the piece of legislation being considered coincides with the interests of the electorate; and this is not as frequent as one might imagine.
The infrequency is due to a lack of money and the need to prioritize its expenditures (aside from infrastructure maintenance), and in the vast majority of such decisions, the ruling party's popularity is the final arbiter of decision-making. An exception of this nature can occur when the proposed legislation receives lots of media attention. It can also occur when opposition parties can be made to look like they made a foolish error in judgement about some peice of proposed legislation; and it then becomes loudly supported by the party in power to show the electorate how ineffective that opposition would be if they ever got to govern.

Opposition parties, on the other hand, can 'make' hay over any proposed legislation by the party in power, because they do not have the ultimate responsibility of decision, and so can pretend to (bellicosely) be the "friend of the common man" in every debate. Should the minority party win an election and be given power, the roles would be just reversed; and in the long run, except for election promises and priorities, no difference could be expected in the method of making government funding allocations that would directly benefit all the electorate.

In CIVIC governance, the institution of party politics obviates the putting-forward of candidates in each riding those good people who work with and for the electorate during the periods between elections, who are very intimately familiar with the issues and concerns of their ridings, and who desire to do something to benefit their neighbours.

Instead, candidates would be chosen by the parties who will run them in the elections, and their work for the city will largely depend upon the party line rather than local issues, just as in big government.

There is a catch-22 to this dilemma, (so to speak). Because the councillors in the city government are currently independents, and the city's operating budgets are very limited, there arise conflicts over which needed improvements actually can receive remediative attention.

And unfortunately, rather than using any sense of truth in service to the community as the decider, career councillors latch on to those issues that promise the most media exposure, and ride them --right or wrong-- for all they're worth, in order to maintain themselves in the public vision through media attention, and thus enhance their chances of re-election.

With this set of circumstances operating at city hall, it would seem to be more advantageous for an elected party to get things done --at least in the wards where the party members are elected. And those who are not in the ruling party would, in bringing forward the concerns of their neighbourhoods, be at an even greater disadvantage than the considerable disadvantage they already face from the media grabbers, cliques, and coalescences of mutual support that hold sway in council.

An alternative to this conundrum would require a complete re-arrangement of civic governance.

For example, the issue of lack of money would have to be solved. Then, the city council would not be required to continually squabble for improvements.

If daily issues (including those arising in the city's support of its infrastrucure) were to be given a back seat to the orderly design of an inclusive budget, then the budget could be made to cover all exigencies as well as ongoing expenditures; and if a cadre of like-minded politicians decided to run together to save money on campaign efforts, and their platform were to be something like 'create a budget that supports the best interests of the city', certainly they would have a real opportunity to find a way to address all the concerns of the citizenry by taking logical measures, rather than risking censure by jumping upon the popular issues.

In Toronto, there are myriad ways of raising monies for civic infrastructure that do not require either raising taxes or asking the federal/provincial governments for handouts.

When and if those means of raising money become employed, it would seem to be sensible for an otherwise impartial "Toronto Party" to step forward and ask for election.

Until there is leadership that can offer a concrete method of achieving the vision of economic independence for the city, and until the vision of what needs to be done for the city becomes an overall vision instead of an issue-by-issue struggle, running the city will continue to be too expensive for a civic election Party to be anything other than 'more of the same' as the current flock of city politicians; and given the undermining influence of party politics, probably worse. Mark State

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By torontoward29 (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 17:19:57

Municipal politics is the last form of government that is not dominated by party politics. It is therefore the only level of politics where candidates must be responsive to the interests of the voters. It is interesting that neither unions nor corporations can contribute to the campaigns of municipal candidates. The will decrease the chances of the NDP financing candidates (as they did in at least one Toronto Ward) in the 2006 election.

I ran as an Independent Candidate federally in 2008. I am now running for Toronto City Council in Toronto Ward 29.

John Richardson - Toronto Danforth - Ward 29

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