Toronto Municipal Election FAQ

This weekend I’ve been trying to figure out who to vote for in the upcoming Toronto municipal election and I wondered about a few basic things. Here’s my attempt to answer them.

Is the Mayor affiliated with a political party?

No. In fact all Toronto municipal government members are non-partisan (ie. no political party affiliation). This is in contrast to Vancouver and Montreal, who have parties at the city-level.

This article hypothesizes that this year’s reduction in the number of city councillors from around 50 to 25 may actually encourage the formation of parties in Toronto in the long term. Why? This is the same question as “What are the merits of having political parties at all vs. having all candidates running as independents”, which is a big question we could spend time on. But here are some of the main reasons cited in the article:

  • The 25 new municipal wards share the same geographical boundaries as the provincial and federal boundaries, making it straightforward for a candidate to align themselves with the provincial/federal parties and candidates of that region.
  • The halving of available councillor positions means we now have double the candidates per position, meaning twice the competition. In order to be competitive, candidates may feel the need for more comprehensive and influential campaign platforms, involving alliances and official support from political parties as well as shared funding.
  • Being affiliated with a party makes it easier for voters to understand the political positions of a given candidate. For example, this year I am having a hard time understanding who to vote for since everyone is independent and I have to investigate each candidate individually to understand what they’re about. But I am left-Liberal minded so it would be much easier for me to make a choice based on parties who share this mindset. A surrogate for parties are “political action groups”, like Progress Toronto, who seem to publicly state their ideology (liberal/progressive) along with suggested candidates if you agree with that ideology, on a ward-by-ward basis. The formation of parties is also correlated with higher voter turnout.
  • At the end of a term, it’s easier for voters to evaluate the success of the incumbents if they are thought of as a conglomerate party rather than as individuals. You can make a broad judgement about if the party was effective or not because they voted together on bills. You can say things like “the Liberals pushed this XYZ legislation and I view it as a failure and therefore I want them out in the next election”. Today you instead must make a judgement on if a particular councillor was effective, which nobody does because nobody has the time to sift through the individual voting records of the incumbent councillors.

It also cites some downsides:

  • If a councillor is part of a party, they’ll need to cast the same vote as all other party members on a given bill, which means they can’t cast a conflicting vote that may be reflective of the true needs of their ward.

My dad also pointed out that a non-partisan government means that voters are truly voting for the best person for the job in a given ward, and the best person for Mayor. Though it’s not clear if this will result in a better society than voting for the best party overall.

 

What exactly does a school board trustee do?

It’s not straightforward to find this answer on Google. Most search hits are articles from popular newspapers that answer the question in high-level, abstract terms (my opinion). But I found this great resource that answers the question in a way that satisfies me. It’s a guide for prospective candidates. Here are some basic things I learned:

  • The school board is the organization that carries out the mandates of the provincial education act. This might be obvious to say.
  • But here’s what surprised me: the members of the board are the trustees! My (wrong) impression was that trustees are only regional advocates or lobbyists but they are actually the ones who vote on board policies. This makes them very powerful and important. I think they are analogous to city councillors in the municipal government, in that they are regionally-elected officials who in turn have voting rights on proposed policies.
  • The board of trustees has exactly 1 employee who reports to them: the Director of Education. The Director is considered the CEO of the school board and their job is to execute the policies and vision set out by the board.
  • So what types of change do the trustees cause? The list is too long and broad to write here so please see the PDF. But in a nutshell they work on policies that impact *everthing* including things like academic achievement, inclusivity and safety, the board’s budget, all while collaborating with the local communities (ie. parents).
  • There are 22 trustees; an even number. How are tied votes broken? Don’t know!

So my immediate thought is: shouldn’t trustees have deep backgrounds as educators? Shouldn’t they be former teachers or school board administrators? Wouldn’t anyone lacking such experience also lack the competency required to do this job? You get to propose and vote on important board policies after all! The incumbent trustee in my ward is Ausma Malik — I googled for 5 mins and couldn’t find any information that she has a background in education. Some of the candidates in my ward have some background in education but many do not. I find this very surprising. Perhaps I’ve grossly misunderstood the role of the trustee and maybe it doesn’t require such a background to do the job competently. Perhaps people with such backgrounds are all employed as teachers and administrators and don’t have time for the job of a trustee. Or maybe this is truly a deep flaw in the system. I’d like to spend time reviewing some of the new board policies introduced in the 2014-2018 term and try to judge if experience as a professional educator was crucial to casting a competent vote.

 

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