A conceit of government -- that what's good for the governors is good for the people would seem to be demonstrated by the city's Governing Toronto Advisory Panel.
The panel has issued a report called The City We Want, The Government We Need, arguing that alleviating poverty, disengagement and economic stagnation require the city to have more regional influence.
And this requires that the mayor have more power to wield and councillors less paper to read.
Specific recommendations include: creating an executive committee appointed by the mayor; increasing council terms to four years; establishing mayoral power to appoint and dismiss chairs and the city manager; and the delegation of "transactional' (non-strategic) decision-making to community councils.
But participants in the consultations on the panel's report might agree with Lao Tzu: "In order to lead people, one must follow them."
That's obviously the thought of former mayor David Crombie, who spoke last week at follow-up deputations on the matter before the Toronto and East York Community Council.
"Whatever you do with these recommendations, don't do [the strong mayor],' said Crombie. "We all support a strong mayor, but a mayor is strengthened by working with councillors, listening to the public and getting on with the job.'
Other deputants at meetings in Scarborough, Etobicoke, East York and downtown throughout February and March had similar worries about grassroots influence. They expressed fears that following a run of listening to the public through the consultation process, council would get on with the job heedless of what they heard.
And the area surrounding the executive and fortified mayor got most of the heat. "If the mayor is strongly pro-development and wants to break the city wide open,' pondered downtown activist Lee Zaslofsky at the downtown meeting in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, "and you don't want that in your neighbourhood, what do you do?'
In fact, the the panel's report argues against delegating planning (as opposed to transactional) power to communities. The rationale seems to be that most unpopular development is actually a result of unrestricted variances to the Official Plan. Such variances are allowed, the report assumes, because there is a lack of enforcement and mayors are too restrained by their powers to enforce it.
But this doesn't seem convincing to many here worried about handing a mayor too much control. Did the city, with its dedicated public consultation unit, get this particular message?
As people talked, staff took notes, giving them to officials circling the room. The papers were fed to a "theming table," where notes were read and grouped before being included in a slide show that would summarize the results for participants before they left.
Many nodded with surprise as their comments were read back. Both downtown and in Scarborough, people agreed that the executive should be elected, rather than appointed; that four-year terms are unpopular; and that the city should more actively seek public opinion.
The presentation proved to be an accurate thermometer of citizen opinion. But even thermometers don't reflect constant, tiny fluctuations very well. There is a risk in this process of leading questions, or of squeezing expressions of dissent into suggestions for modification.
Results did not seem to communicate that many people preferring an elected executive committee also expressed concerns about the existence of an executive at all. There was no means for recognition that many were more enthusiastic about citizen consultation than they were about the report that spawned it, or that the clearest support was for empowering community councils which some fear is being offered simply to make council and the executive more centralized.
At the follow-up deputations, former city planner Paul Bedford argued for a doubling of community councils, pointing out that the Downtown/East York district has the same population as Halifax.
Some said there was no need to stop there. Why not empower neighbourhood associations as well? "Many of the recommendations seem to result from the problem of our bigness,' said Hilary Bell. "We should decentralize by default, and centralize only when necessary.'
Most to the point, however, was the ever-iconoclastic Tim Rourke. "No one can change the organic powers of the city without democratic approval,' he said. "Take all this strong mayor, executive committee, and stuff it back wherever it came from.'