Opinion-Policy Nexus

In today's Globe and Mail, Richard Florida makes the argument for strengthening the position of Mayor for the city of Toronto.

There are many ways to make this case, but I'm not really convinced by Florida's arguments and analysis in this op-ed.

Among other things, he writes:

"This might sound ironic, considering all the damage Mr. Ford 
was able to do in just two years, but what Toronto needs is a 
more powerful mayor, not a less powerful one. Cities have become 
the key economic, political and social organizing units of our 
time. It’s vital that their leadership be appropriately 
empowered."

Fair enough, but the rising importance of cities as "the key economic, political and social organizing units of our time" does not necessarily mean we need strong mayors.  Indeed, strong mayors can actually produce the opposite effects that Florida so badly wants to see.  A large body of scholarship (see here and here, for instance) has taught us the importance of dispersing power, rather than concentrating it, in democratic (and other!) systems..

Immediately after this paragraph, he writes:

Unlike the nations they’re located in, whose governments are as 
often as not paralyzed by ideological gridlock, many of our 
great global cities are becoming virtual laboratories of 
democracy, developing pragmatic, non-ideological policy 
approaches to everything from crime and education to 
infrastructure development and job creation.

First, I would argue that municipal governments like Toronto's are just as polarized along ideological lines as national governments.  Besides the daily news reports about the left-right divide on city council, my colleague, Dr. Chris Cochrane at the University of Toronto, is working on a book that empirically shows a clear left-right clustering on Toronto city council on a variety of issues over time, confirming and extending common assumptions about the ideological divide that exists in Toronto city council.

Second, even if it's true that "many of our great global cities are becoming virtual laboratories of democracy, developing pragmatic, non-ideological policy approaches to everything...", I find it hard to believe that strong mayors are necessary or even helpful for facilitating this type of democratic governance.

I'm not a municipal politics scholar by any means, and so I will leave it to others, like my more learned colleague, Loren King, to comment on the rest of the arguments in the op-ed.  But I'm not convinced that strong mayors are necessary for the types of outcomes that Florida wants to generate.

Comments

Thomas,

Here's my question, though. What do you mean by stronger leadership? Are we talking leadership in terms of forging internal consensus? Leadership in terms of coordinating cities in their intergovernmental efforts with the province and feds? What does stronger leadership mean, especially in the context of cities and their "pivotal role in society and economics"?

Or do we mean that cities need a stronger role in the federation (e.g. more autonomy, both jurisdictional and financial)? I'm more apt to agree with the need for the latter, as I think you would as well.

moderation" i thought i was polite...

1) i would agree that cities given their pivotal role in society and economics need strong(er) leadership
2) i am not convinced that such leadership needs to come from a strong mayor, although a populist imbecile like rob ford probably is not a good sample of one to extrapolate anything significant
3) last time i looked (some time ago, admittedly), while city councils showed lef-right patterns, the voting pattern often was issue-oriented - has that changed? why? particularly in toronto? - mabybe because of the aforementioned populist imbecile in office?

Posted

Friday, November 30, 2012 - 11:44

Category