Councillor Josh Matlow

City Hall Diary: While parties are banned, partisan politics thrive

Party politics are alive and well at city hall.

I don’t mean official parties — they’re banned in Ontario’s municipal governments. But aside from a small handful of moderate councillors, team sports and competing ideologies have divided council into two camps — the right and the left.

Why else would some city councillors relinquish their independence, accept voting advice on “cheat sheets” from the mayor’s office, and resign themselves to be shepherded through a council meeting? I spoke with some of my right-leaning colleagues to find out.

One councillor told me he agrees with the mayor on nearly everything and doesn’t need the cheat sheets. Another earnestly believes she’s reflecting her constituents’ wishes to see the mayor’s agenda manifested. And a few seem to hope that if they horse-trade long enough, something they want will eventually earn the mayor’s blessing.

However, although the right wing currently enjoys a majority, a member of the mayor’s crew believes that the left might actually be the better organized bunch. He told me former mayor David Miller would use arm gestures to indicate to his fellow lefties how to vote.

With a common ideology, combined with a visceral mistrust of Mr. Ford, council’s lefties regularly meet up to discuss how their “caucus” should vote on the big issues.

Meanwhile, convinced the “pinkos” are going to “play games” to impede their objectives, cheat sheets are distributed to help keep Team Ford literally on the same page.

It all smacks of party politics. But by toeing the party line, councillors can be seen as taking the easy way out.

The night before council’s recent vote on whether to fire the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) board was a long one. I lay awake in bed weighing the merits of the arguments I’d heard.

Ultimately, I agreed with the mayor that it would’ve been better if the TCHC board had resigned to renew public confidence in social housing. However, as it was the auditor general’s report that councillors were basing a decision on, and this report had never actually been received by council (questions about or even mention of it weren’t allowed during the debate), I decided that I couldn’t in good conscience support firing a group of individuals without the dignity of due process.

Unlike their politicians, most Torontonians make life’s big decisions without considering partisan ideology. Downtowners and suburbanites alike simply look at their realities; make necessary choices and sometimes struggle with them — without cheat sheets or caucuses.

Many people tell me they wish their city councillors would do the same.

Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.

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