Get a chance to catch the chaotic mayoral debate last Wednesday? Mayoral hopefuls Olivia Chow, Rob Ford, David Soknacki, Karen Stintz and John Tory duked it out over, well-- almost everything.
Although there was no clear 'winner' of the debate despite U.S. talk show host Jimmy Kimmel's less than serious comparison of Ford to JFK, the city's buzzing over whose hands the future of our city will lie.
There are 44 other races for local office that may be worth paying even more attention to, here's why. City council is currently made up of 44 councillors to represent the 44 wards that the city was divided into after 1998. The ward or community you live in is represented by a councillor who's responsible for all of your city-related needs (eg. community safety, property taxes, garbage pickup, parks, streets, community centres etc.).
While one councillor doesn't necessarily seem like a big deal, put 44 of them together and you have a wave strong enough to wash away the mayor's powers and budget as we saw happen in November 2013 last year following the peak of Mayor Ford's crack scandal.
Even though we're about seven months away, it's a good time to see who's making an effort in your community, who's trying to improve it and who's active.
So whom does city council actually belong to and what's the point of a mayor?
Traditionally, a mayor acts as the city's CEO. He or she is the head of council and its official representative locally, nationally and internationally according to the City of Toronto Act. These powers are protected by the Province of Ontario and can't be removed by council. The mayor does not however have a unilateral veto over the will of council. As we know quite well by now, the mayor can't be removed from office unless he or she has been found guilty of a serious crime -- or the Premier decides that it is best for the sake of council's function and effectiveness.
This is why council is so important. As a unified body it has immense power to shift the agenda of our city. A mayor should technically be able to unite and determine solid goals for Toronto along with a strong policy agenda designed to solve our toughest of challenges. Unfortunately there hasn't been much unity on council and partisan-politics has stifled much progress. The never ending subway vs. LRT debate creating a rift between the downtown core and the suburbs and a lack of true 'big-picture, visionary thinking' has seriously stalled Toronto's ability to capitalize on its unique potential. Council can even put forward motions to have the City of Toronto act amended.
They are your frontline representatives to Canada's largest city, they can propose motions and become powerful forces for change and community advocacy. Take away the mayoral drama and its your local councilor who will be dealing with your day-to-day concerns, not necessarily your mayor.
This is where you come in.
When you cast your ballot for mayor on October 27, you'll also be casting one for your local city councillor. The choice at the ballot box is yours and the candidates you choose can change your community and city for the better, or worse. It's important to get to know the platforms of new candidates as they may have a fresh and untainted perspective to offer. There are a plethora of new candidates this election, including myself along with close to 40 (and counting) people on the ballot for mayor. This election will be historic for many reasons and the outcome is up to you. Who knows, you may just want to get involved yourself.
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