Today marks a month since the results of the Toronto Municipal Election were realized. Within the first few moments as the finality of the whole process hit me, I knew there would need to be a cooling off period. This would allow for clarity in my conversation about what this election meant, how the process changed my life and of course to share my thoughts and feelings.
I will separate my thoughts about the election into three parts: My city, my ward, myself. Each will be my reflection of a segment of the election including my emotional responses. I will keep the facts and figures to a minimum; it won't be that kind of wrap-up.
The Truths about Toronto
Is this the Toronto I envisioned at the beginning of the year, hell no! I couldn't imagine a return to almost the same city council that just dragged Toronto through stages of embarrassment no one would want to experience again. With only 1 incumbent losing their seat, the stark reality begins to creep in that 'incumbents are here for life'. This isn't entirely true but with such a council that had very serious and specific integrity issues, how could the residents of the city come to a decision for a mulligan?
The city as a whole did quite well in having 'great' turnout percentages. Specific facts and figures are amazing tools for data analysis. Data on face value is often bellowed as 'truth' yet it often can be manipulated to arrive at a predetermined result. The percentages and overall voter turnout has been broken down, analyzed, charted, graphed and presented to explain anything. A percentage of a percentage gives a mandate but if only if the percentage correlates to an expectation of the multiplication of needed votes... and becomes so complicated and convoluted that no one really cares.
TRUTH: There still isn't enough residents voting
I do not believe that even with the better turnout, that we have enough residents voting. Toronto has approximately 2.8 Million residents of which only a percentage are eligible to vote. When you take into consideration the percentage who actually votes, you've already diluted the results and given more power to a select group. Now just because a person voted, they may not have chosen the victor. Even with a majority percentage in the election, the true number of winning voters is merely a fraction of the actual residents represented.
How do we improve voter turnout? Good question - there are no easy answers but here are some that have been brought up before & after the election:
- Mandatory voting
- Ranked ballots
- Lowering the voter age
- Allow permanent residents to vote
Will forcing residents to vote or to pay a nominal fee actually increase voter turnout? I believe it would. The only issue would be comparing it to anything else that is mandatory in our lives. From family gatherings to chores or other household duties - being present does not correlate to involvement. Any duty that is forced is always met by those who were unlikely to be there on their own with ambivalence. I have seen mandatory voting as a complete negative implementation because it does not offer change. Most residents who aren't informed about candidates, platforms and policies usually vote for the incumbent. Residents that feel obligated to avoid any fine would likely either select randomly or the person that repeatedly sent them information about the great job they are doing. There may be voters who would rather pay a fee to not vote, a cost of their democracy that would be just another cash grab.
Ranked ballots are an election change I have fully supported for all positions municipally. The fact that a candidate can be elected or re-elected with 20% is shocking. First past the post is a system we have because it is easy; the person with the most votes wins. Taking into consideration of the mayoral race in Toronto, there was no candidate that won with 50%. Would the result change if there was ranked ballots... maybe. But the election itself would be entirely different as policy and personality would have a greater importance than strategic voting. I support ranked ballots even though it would have completely have pushed me out of my race. This isn't about my campaign or my ego; it is about allowing candidates that I believe should have won an opportunity to succeed. This would be a definite benefit to better representation (which I'll discuss later). I do hope that ranked ballots are part of the 2018 election.
Both lowering the voter age and allowing permanent residents to vote are good ideas but really need to be discussed. I spoke with many residents that were well informed and were honest about "I can't vote". Allowing permanent residents to vote is being spearheaded by several in our city and beginning the conversation opens it up for serious consideration. This is a topic I will likely touch on in another post.
TRUTH: Voting doesn't mean informed
When people hear about the voter turnout, they also may believe that residents are making an informed decision. I usually start to taste blood in my mouth as I bite my tongue when I hear that. It takes me about 5 seconds to look at a few councillors that have gone past their 'best before' date. Given their attendance record or their involvement in the community, it comes across as just 'calling it in'. Ask the average voter why they voted for a particular mayoral candidate or councillor and the answers may surprise you. My personal experience had people voting for a candidate because of nationality, age, name, favourite colour (not really but you get my point), family connection. Residents may also vote for one-liners like "no new taxes" without knowing the substantive policy shifts needed to have such promises occur.
One aspect of being in directly involved in politics that surprised me - not everyone cares about politics on a day to day basis. Those who are within the bubble of politics almost have it consume them while most residents just want to have their daily life the main focus. I understand the point since there really is no recourse to politicians after election day. If Toronto couldn't completely remove a mayor who admitted to crack use, what use is there to 'keep them honest' without mechanisms to actually do anything. Can we trust politicians to police themselves? Do we need better structures with teeth to keep our elected representatives accountable - of course. Will this be a debate that will engulf the entire city; not a chance!
How do we keep residents informed about local politics - the question may be rephrased by several as "do we really want residents to be informed?"
TRUTH: Diversity Our Strength
The motto of Toronto is "Diversity our strength" which couldn't be so blatantly false after this election. Doing a quick look at council should make you think "is this the proper representation of my city?" With only 6 visible minorities, not enough women and a council that is too 'right-wing'... this council is not our strength. This is what devastates me the most - the lack of change across the city. With so many strong candidates who brought forth great city building ideas, there was hope for a new direction. Looking past their policies and platforms residents would have seen a plethora of capable candidates from many different nationalities not represented. Does race/religion/gender/sexuality matter in being city councillor? Definitely.
Why do any of those categories make a difference? They matter because it allows communities across the city to have a representative that may not even be their councillor to have a voice. I am honest that I don't know what it feels like to be a black gay female and yet if I were elected, I may have to make decisions that may affect that person. Many residents are forthcoming when discussing that they would vote solely on any of those categories because they believe the candidate understands their perspective. Decisions (that aren't based on good politics) would be based on policy. Have the councillors been available to residents who may not otherwise have a voice? Do their values and affiliations contrast starkly with groups within their ward?
A few of you may think "but isn't he a white male?" and how would that make a difference on our council? True, very true. I agree that my paradigm may seem to be with the current council's overall view. I however allow myself to listen to friends, family and residents who were not part of my identifiable categories. I am in a mixed-race marriage, my co-campaign manager was gay, I supported many strong voices across the city and looked towards their experiences in getting a foundation for certain policies. I understand the need to give a voice to many cultures, genders and communities. A good councillor doesn't send all the time at meetings speaking, they spend the time listening.
TRUTH: Media isn't based on NEWS
I would love to have a media geek examine in depth the media coverage of all candidates during the municipal election. With council candidates numbering 358 across the 44 wards, who got coverage, what was the narrative and what was the correlation between coverage and vote percentages? I have always suspected but never knew for sure about the intentions of media outlets. I used to believe that the news was about truth, fairness or a capturing of real life. Like I said about data above, 'truth' can be manipulated to arrive at a predetermined result.
The media has to keep within the facts in presenting the news. This however doesn't mean they do not have an agenda, which most often includes the need to make money. By either selling more news papers or increasing viewership, they have the need to survive amongst the numerous news options. How does this affect the municipal election coverage - simple - targeted coverage.
During an all candidates meeting put on within my ward open to ALL candidates for mayor or councillor the media was there. Being within Ward 3 you would expect taking the time to give the council candidates a few seconds to introduce themselves... nope. Their job was to interview the top 3 mayoral candidates and just standing around the rest of the time. How disheartening is it when even presented with a conduit to speak to media it was blatantly obvious who was the focal point. Only when you get to see behind the curtain that you realize its just not magic, just a person pressing buttons.
One aspect that increased my venom towards the media was their lackluster approach to endorsements. I had one semi endorsement which seems more of a haphazard 'lets throw everything at the wall and see what sticks' point of view. It lacked any sort of research or knowledge of the candidates or platforms. Which candidates were out in their community, who actually showed up at organized events? If I asked them, they would probably lift their shoulders and murmur "I really don't know" followed by "who cares". My ward, like many across the city didn't have a sexy narrative that sells. There was no scandals, no wars between candidates that would make for great reporting. They failed our community and in the end, it really doesn't matter because the audience and the shareholders are often different.
The lack of media coverage to candidates of significance is best evident for David Soknacki who would have a small media presence on a platform announcement because the Ford's were going to have a press conference that would definitely sell more newspapers. Once David left the mayoral race, it wasn't about policy, it was about personality. I'm not sure about you, but a great personality never made transit improve without substance.
TRUTH: We can do better Toronto!
One benefit to this election is that it had a lot more candidates which in turn may have opened up its importance to many residents. Toronto, we can do better, we need to do better. Yes your vote counts, even if your candidate lost. It counts even more if they lost because now you have the right to pay attention and make the councillor accountable (next election). Closing your eyes and being blind to the system once again will only lead to the same results. Each of us may not be able to affect council on a day to day basis, but our voices collectively can be heard. When we consider that once elected, politicians are looking for ways to get re-elected in the next election, everything is on the table. Issues matter if we make them vocal.
A year ago I was a mere resident within Toronto. My voice had no sound, my thoughts had no projection. I felt I couldn't possibly make a difference and even though I may have come 7th of 10 in my race, I had 1025 residents who felt I spoke for them. Imagine what can occur in the next election if there were more residents who stood up and had their voice heard. Only then can we start to believe that we really do matter.
END OF 2014 Municipal Election Wrap-up - Part 1