With the Ontario municipal elections behind us, I would now like to make a request to all of the Councillor Elects, Mayor Elects and citizens everywhere. For the next four years, would it be too much to ask to keep party politics out of municipal affairs?
To set the record straight, there are no parties in local government. You did not vote for a Liberal councillor or a Conservative mayor. Likewise, to all of you newly elected officials, you do not represent a provincial or federal party. Nevertheless, over the last 10 months of campaigning, I have heard countless times refrains such as "I'm not voting for a filthy Conservative for Mayor" or "Those scheming Liberals have taken over City Hall". What's worse, candidates not only propagated this misconception by declaring that they would be a Conservative or Liberal politician, but in fact told citizens to vote along provincial or federal party lines.
For higher levels of government, it may be easy to simply choose a party that falls along your ideological lines and indeed the portfolios that Queen's Park and Ottawa address lend themselves to ideological identification. Military policy, education funding and international relations can all be very easily divided into "left" and "right" wing thinking. Some issues at the municipal level can be structured this way as well. A budget will always be privy to fiscal ideology, and grants to non-profits will always be privy to social ideology. However, many municipal portfolios have nothing to do with ideology. Seriously, what is "NDP pothole repair", "Progressive Conservative land-use planning" or "Liberal garbage collection"? These things just sound ludicrous.
Part of the problem lies in the misconception that mayors act like premiers or the Prime Minister and set a mandate that other politicians either support or oppose. In municipal government, this is NOT SUPPOSED to be the case. [Yes, that warranted the use of all caps.] Municipal government is supposed to be about consensus building in which debate is intended to help find the best course of action to benefit as many people as possible - not to adopt "with me or against me" positions. If a mayor or councillor adopts a rhetoric based position and refuses to budge, then they are not doing their job.
Take development decisions as an example: ideological rhetoric cannot determine whether a in-fill proposal is good for a neighbourhood or not. It is not reasonable to be "pro" or "anti" development because any such stance assumes that all development is good or bad under all circumstances. Again, this is absolutely ridiculous to suggest. The only way to make such a decision is to evaluate the facts on a case-by-case basis. Whether or not this evaluation is being made should be our basis for evaluating our councils over the next four years.
Things also extend to those of us who are observing the actions of Council. We should not say things like "typical Liberal behaviour" or "obvious Conservative collusion". We should be willing to recognize that in a government built on consensus rather than opposition, that sometimes a left wing idea is best, and sometimes a right wing idea is best. It is the mayors and councillors who recognize this who are the most successful. It is the citizens who recognize this who are the happiest with their communities. It is all of us who should benefit from a party politics free four years.