The bulletin is prepared by John Sewell, the site manager, with the assistance and under the guidance of the advisory committee. It is published monthly, and is being sent to a wide range of people across Canada. Past copies of the bulletin will be archived in this section of the site.
Bulletin No. 31, October 2002
Local Government Bulletin No. 31, October 2002
The purpose of this bulletin is to focus debate on the need to increase the powers and authorities of local government in Canada and to ensure local communities achieve more autonomy. The new Local Government website is http://www.localgovernment.ca . This site replaces www.localself-govt.org .
In this issue:
1. Vancouver Municipal Election
2. More Federal Promises
3. Two Books of Local Government Interest
4. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Vancouver Municipal Election
Most Canadians who watch television feel they have some inside track in the Vancouver election – Larry Campbell, the man whose career as Vancouver coroner spawned the CBC-TV show `Da Vinci’s Inquest,’ is running for mayor.
Campbell is the candidate for the Committee of Progressive Electors (COPE), and he’s up against Councillor Jennifer Clarke for the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) and Valerie MacLean for the newly established Vancouver Civic Action TEAMCampbell appears to be the front-runner in the November 16 election, but few consider the matter settled.
Vancouver is the only large city in the country that functions without a ward system. The ten councillors are elected at large, which has encouraged the formation of strong local parties to control the look and feel of council. (A list of all candidates, both for mayor and for councillor, may be found at the site http://www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/ctyclerk/election2002/electindex.htm and go to Final list of candidates.)
For the last sixteen years the NPA, the business dominated party, has held sway electing mayors Gordon Campbell and Philip Owen, and a majority of councillors. Owen has been replaced by Clarke, and the NPA again boasts a well-financed campaign (estimated at $1 million) to take it past COPE, which is spending about half that amount. TEAM trails well back with a budget of $100,000.
In other big cities, the mayoralty campaign may be the predominant media focus, but the ward system ensures that local campaigns have their own lives and issues, and the comprehensive city-wide party approach holds little sway. Ward systems allow independent candidates to emerge (indeed in most Canadian cities there is no functioning political party system) and generally dilute the power of the mayoralty candidates to entirely set the issues during the campaign. Local ward issues maintain their importance.
But in Vancouver the party and its mayoralty candidate hold more sway. Clarke is firm on support for the city‘s Olympic Games bid in 20010; Campbell is softer and would qualify the bid. Campbell is strongly in favour of progressive policies around drugs and drug-users in the Downtown Eastside; Clarke is seen as somewhat less committed to such programs. Two larger issues swirl over the city – the disappearance of more than 50 women from the Downtown east side in recent years, the multiple charges of murder against one suspect, and the tardiness of the Vancouver police to take the issue seriously; and the policies of Premier Gordon Campbell, former NPA mayor, in attacking public programs. Some have suggested that if Campbell is successful on November 16, the majority of councillors will have an NPA affiliation.
As an elector, there’s lots to do when you go into the voting booth: vote for one mayor ten councillor’s, seven park commissioners, and nine school trustees. Democracy may be better served by an effective ward system where the performance of candidates and elected officials is tied to a particularly part of the city.
2. More Federal Promises
The Speech from the Throne on September 30 contained unfamiliarly kind words (from Ottawa) for Canadian cities. They were lodged in their own section of the Speech, entitled Competitive Cities and Healthy Communities, and were vague and general in their support (as Speeches from the Throne always are) such as:
“Modern infrastructure is key to the prosperity of our cities and the health of our communities. Working with provinces and municipalities, the government will put in place a ten-year program for infrastructure to accommodate long-term strategic initiatives essential to competitiveness and sustainable growth. Within this framework, it will introduce a new strategy for a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible transportation system that will help reduce congestion in our cities and bottlenecks in our trade corridors.”
Does this mean support for transit? Or rail? Is it suggesting support for infrastructure other than transportation?
Funding is promised for hostels and other interim programs for the homeless (through the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiatives) but not for new, permanent, affordable, housing. There is a promise to help cities with immigrant settlement policies, policies to deal with drug addiction; and to help aboriginals in cities. And there’s the mystery of the meaning of this sentence:
“The government will target its regional development activities to better meet the needs of the knowledge economy and address the distinct challenges of Canada’s urban, rural and northern communities.”
Does this mean there will be a job creation program is about to be announced that favours large urban centres as much as very small communities and rural areas? It is unclear.
But attempting to interpret the entrails of the Speech from the Throne (the complete text is found at http://www.ddt-sft.gc.ca/hnav/hnav07_e.htm ) may not be useful. The campaign to find a successor to Prime Minister Jean Chretien is now firmly underway, and one senses that Ottawa is awash in political campaigning at the expense of new policy formation, and will be for the next twelve months. Urban policy, whether in the mode proposed by MP Judy Sgro’s Task Force or by former Finance Minister Paul Martin, seems to remain a matter of debate rather than a settled direction for the time being. The likelihood of anything clear being announced in the next six months seems remote. It is hardly encouraging for urban leaders.
3. Two books of local government interest
The title of John Chipman’s book on the Ontario Municipal Board describes his general conclusion - the Board is `a law unto itself.’ Chipman, a Toronto lawyer fluent in municipal and planning law, has provided an evaluation of the way the OMB approached its business from 1970-2000. He analyzes decisions of the Board in three periods, 1971-1978, 1987-1994, and 1995-2000, concluding that the Board has “leaned heavily towards one element of planning; protection of private property interests – to the detriment of the other broader public policy related element.” Developers are far more likely to have their wishes approved by the board than non-developers, and applications supported by both developers and municipalities are generally unbeatable.
Chipman believes the OMB is a tribunal which has been given a general mandate but then has been largely left on its own to determine what policies to apply, most often favouring its own policies over those of any other public body. He says that the OMB does “little that could not be done by local decision makers,” and points out that other jurisdictions in Canada function quite well without the overriding pervasiveness of the OMB. Chipman concludes the OMB “no longer plays a necessary role in Ontario’s planning system: that, if anything, it makes the planning process more complex, time-consuming, and expensive. Most importantly, it places the ultimate decision-making authority for land use planning, which is in its essence a political process, in the hands of appointed, non-accountable officials.”
The book is not elegantly written but is full of useful information for anyone in Ontario who wonders just why the OMB has come out with yet another decision rejecting local interests. For those in the rest of the country it is a warning of the kind of organization municipalities should not allow to develop if they wish to preserve some sense of reasonable decision-making in land use planning.
“A Law Unto Itself” by John G. Chipman; University of Toronto Press, 259 pages. Price: $60.00
In attempting to get a modicum of distance from my newly published book, the following is from the dust jacket:
History has often dismissed William Lyon Mackenzie as an almost comical figure or else portrayed him as the political hothead who bungled the Rebellion of 1837. Seldom is he taken seriously. Yet former Toronto mayor John Sewell tells us he may in fact be the best model we have of a responsible politician.
In “Mackenzie, A Political Biography of William Lyon Mackenzie,” Sewell brings the fiery Mackenzie into life. He describes his subject’s early years in Scotland and puts forward an intriguing theory about the political experience Mackenzie may have gained during the 1820 uprisings in Glasgow. He tells us about Mackenzie, the feisty journalist and publisher of the Colonial Advocate; Mackenzie, the first mayor of Toronto, who diligently and efficiently served the city; and Mackenzie, the leader of the Rebellion of 1837, a man more suited to discussion than insurrection. Most important, he paints a vivid picture of someone who was the passionate champion of a still inchoate idea – democracy. Throughout this riveting account of Mackenzie’s life, we see his attempt to imaginatively grasp and understand what the concept of democracy meant and what obligations it conferred upon its practitioners.
Mackenzie, his political beliefs, and his experience in Upper Canada more than 150 years ago are still relevant to us today. This stimulating and insightful political biography comes from one of Mackenzie’s spiritual descendants and a man well known himself as a Toronto reform politician.”
“It is a delight to reach activist Sewell on activist Mackenzie. The two men are linked in so many ways – both mayors, both activists, both writers, and both adamant that the interests and rights of the common citizenry take precedent over whatever elite power each generation is prone to throw up. Good politics. Good read.” – R.H. Thomson
“This book offers an excellent analysis of the struggle for a truly responsible government. Sewell clearly illustrates our present need for comprehensive reform.”
- Marion Dewar
“Mackenzie: A Political Biography of William Lyon Mackenzie” by John Sewell, James Lorimer & Co., 249 pages. Price $29.95
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