Wednesday, January 8, 2014

High time for term limits at Toronto City Hall

TORONTO - Politics are like heroin. The longer you’re into it, the more you need.

You get twitchy, even at budget meetings, and snap such niceties as “shut your f---ing mouth.”

This isn’t healthy. Clearly, you get hooked, strung out. You might even drool.

So it is high time to cap how long our leaders can lead us.

Before you howl, “anti-democratic!” let me point out term limits began in ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy, to keep politicians from growing fat and lazy.

In the U.S., Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson championed term limits as checks on power-hungry pols. Such curbs are common down there, from president to the mayors of New York and L.A.

So, usually, American presidents, mayors and dogcatchers aren’t in power long enough to get really dirty, though many try and a few succeed.

You need time to work up to a good scandal — from Watergate, to Sponsorgate to the gas plant disgrace. Mostly, scandals happen when the culprit has been in power too long.

Our parliaments are tougher to impose caps on, since a “term” can vary wildly, especially in a minority.

As a libertarian, I think John Turner’s reign was about right — 79 days. We’d be better off if all our “leaders” strutted about a few days, then buggered off and left us alone. I can but dream.

But term limits are a natural at city hall, with its every-four-years council and mayoral elections.

I doubt they would quash such exchanges as the gem at Wednesday’s budget committee meeting.

Councillor Janet Davis (to penny-pinching Councillor Doug Ford): “Shut your f---ing mouth!”

Councillor Ford (jumping up): “You call yourself a lady!? Gimme a break.”

(Davis apologizes).

Still, term limits are worth thinking about, as the mind-boggling marathon to Oct. 27 begins, and as “temp” councillor Peter Leon ponders breaking his promise not to run, surprise, surprise. Leon must look at his colleagues and murmur, “hey, this could be a good, looooong gig!”

Many of the current crop have been around since before Confederation, I mean amalgamation.

Nothing personal against Pam McConnell or Norm Kelly, but they’re like the eggnog still in my fridge.

God bless it, that eggnog served me well, but the stale date was last week. Give me something fresh, like a nice pomegranate shake.

Pammy’s political career launched in 1982, at school board, and she has been a councillor since 1994. Deputy mayor Kelly has hung around since 1974, in one form or another, including a stint as a Trudeau MP.

Paula Fletcher’s political odyssey has included four years in the 1980s as leader of the Communist Party of Manitoba.

Of 44 councillors, 25 are into their third terms or longer, and a whopping 14 have roosted since sometime in the last century.

Officially, Gloria Lindsay Luby and Maria Augimeri have lasted longest as city councillors, included pre-amalgamation. What, were they in diapers?

Their council careers began in 1985, the year Dion Phaneuf was born and the first-ever mobile phone call was made.

Lindsay Luby, for instance has four terms in Etobicoke and four in Toronto under her belt.

Nothing against her, but that’s too damn long on the teat, as Grandma Strobel used to say.

Last spring, two first-time councillors Jaye Robinson and Mary-Margaret McMahon proposed capping terms at three — 12 years. Hardly draconian, but councillors blanched, and buried the motion pronto. The pair will try again after next October’s election, assuming they’re re-elected.

“Too many people see this as a career,” Robinson tells me. “It’s not. It’s a calling.

“Come to city hall, roll up your sleeves, contribute, then move on.”

But what of democracy, councillor? Should voters not decide terms?

“Democracy is about levelling the playing field and letting new people into the mix. It seems to work well in the States.

“Our council would be more functional with more turnover. When people run term after term after term, you see deep trenches and ruts form, alliances based on ideology, not research, and they stop looking at things objectively.

“It’s not healthy for council or for the city.”

Think of it as the flu. We’re overdue for our shot.
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