Thursday, February 17, 2011
ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY
Since he swept into office, Mayor Rob Ford and his older brother, Councillor Doug Ford, have established a highly centralized administration that holds the reins of power tightly.
Not tightly enough, Doug Ford said in an interview this week.
“I believe in a strong mayor system, like they have in the States. The mayor should have veto power … so he has enough power to stop council,” Mr. Ford said. “The mayor should be the mayor. At the end of the day … the mayor’s responsible for everything.”
It’s been a tough transition for the Ford camp to shift from a highly partisan, highly successful mayoral campaign to the enforced diplomacy of governing, attempting to woo councillors and win votes on a 45-person council with no party system, in which the mayor has only one ballot to cast.
“You’ve always got that council. You’ve got to have your 23 votes to get it passed,” Mr. Ford said.
He’d like the mayor to be able to override council “100 per cent. … So the mayor has veto power.”
It’s a model that closely mirrors an American system, which favours strong mayors who wield more clout than what former mayor David Crombie called the “bully pulpit” and single vote on council. In some U.S. cities, a two-thirds majority of council is required to overrule the mayor’s desire.
“Mayor Daly, in Chicago” – Doug Ford noted, citing a role model of the Ford brothers, whose label business has close ties to the U.S. city. “He got things done.”
The elder Mr. Ford is also a fan of Mississauga’s Hazel McCallion, who has wielded significant political clout on her council despite being officially one vote of many.
“She runs a tight ship over there. … She’s got such massive support, they just don’t go against her.”
During former mayor David Miller’s time in office, Toronto began leaning more closely towards a strong-mayor system, “much of it being prompted by the province’s view” that favoured a stronger mayor and a more streamlined decision-making system in the city, says Ryerson University politics professor Myer Siemiatycki.
“What we have seen in recent years is a growing discomfort with what has been perceived as a lack of sufficient clout in the mayor’s hands,” he said. “We have taken a number of steps to goose the leverage of the mayor.” Those steps include having the mayor hand-pick an executive – but they can still vote however they choose.
The City of Toronto Act, passed in 2006, also strengthened the mayor’s hand. If Queen’s Park could be convinced to change the act itself, Dr. Siemiatycki said, it could give the mayor extra power without the support of the majority of council.
“There are potential dangers of going too far in both directions,” said. “There’s the danger of arbitrary, autocratic decision-making if you have too much power in the hands of the mayor; there’s the danger of fragmentation, lack of accountability if you go in the other direction. These are things every council has to navigate and sort out.”
Some opposition councillors have already called Rob Ford out for being too centralized in his decision-making, arguing council has less input, and mayoral edicts are less flexible, than they ought to be.
Not so, Doug Ford argued.
“One of the great attributes that Rob has. … Rob will sit down and he’ll be in a group of 10 people and they’ll say, ‘Rob, we should do it this way’ and even if he says, ‘Oh, I think it’s this…’ he’s open minded. He’ll change his mind. And that shows a strong leader,” Mr. Ford said. “Thinking you’re the smartest guy in the room and no one’s going to change my mind that’s the worst leader you could ever have. And Rob’s not that way: He will change his mind like that if it makes sense to him, in a heartbeat.”
But all that said, “the mayor always has to have his input,” the elder Ford sibling noted.
“At the end of the day, he has more skin in the game than anyone. And either he’s going to be re-elected or he’ll be out of a job in four years. And he’ll be held accountable. And we have to meet the promises we made here.”
Doug Ford added he’s unrepentant about remarks he made to anti-poverty activists who stormed a budget committee meeting earlier this month – specifically a retort telling one particularly aggressive man to “get going. Get a job.”
“They’re anarchists. And I don’t have time for people like that,” Mr. Ford said. “I would be proud to say, ‘Go get a job’ to those guys.”
He said he’s reviewing funding for groups whose members may have been present at the demonstration.
“Some of those folks are actually getting grants from the city to lobby against the government,” he said. “I just don’t understand.”