Star Chamber no way to improve Toronto election

Man smoking cigar at bar counter, shallow focus
Democracy is best served at the public ballot box, not in smoky back rooms.

In today’s Toronto Star,
In his column, James notes Olivia Chow is the anointed flag-bearer of the Left, and bemoans the fact “the city’s conservatives” just can’t get their act together to settle on a single conservative candidate to challenge Rob Ford.

It is widely understood that, when people say “there is no party politics” at Toronto City Hall, what they really mean is “there is only one political party” at City Hall.  It is illegal, after all, to list a party affiliation beside a name on a municipal ballot, and political parties are afforded no formal recognition at City Council.  Still, that doesn’t mean the New Democratic Party (NDP) is not fully engaged in city politics.  But, they work largely under cover of darkness.

People don’t want an invisible back room cabal to pre-select their next mayor.  They prefer to keep that choice for themselves.

The NDP is the only political party that is vertically integrated.  Unlike the various Conservative parties and the Liberals who run very separate organizations at federal and provincial levels, the NDP is largely unified.  A membership in the NDP is a membership in both federal and provincial parties.  In Ontario, an NDP member is a member of both the federal and provincial constituency associations, and the “municipal constituency association” if one exists, in their area.

NDP operatives and volunteers often move from federal to provincial to, yes, municipal campaigns.  The NDP “nominates” its candidate for mayor, informally of course.  That nominee for the 2014 campaign is, sources say, NDP Member of Parliament and widow of the late NDP Leader Jack Layton, Olivia Chow.

James’s question seems to be, if the NDP can run a surreptitious back room operation to choose their champion, why can’t the conservatives?  He writes:  “Having failed to sort out their preferred candidate before the race began, conservative voters and organizers will have to figure it out over the next six months.”

That sentiment is classic Toronto Star.

In the absence of a legitimate municipal party system, James apparently advocates for Star Chambers.  He seems to believe politics is too important to be left to voters.   Better, that there exists, somewhere, an oak-panelled smoking room full of cigar-chomping Old Boys to decide who’s going to run for mayor and who’s going to win.  That way, there will be order in the kingdom.  That way, there will be no surprises to upset stock portfolios.  That way, there will be no more Rob Fords.

But, that way offends most everyday people.  Every day people don’t want their food pre-chewed by a cadre of social elites.  They don’t want an invisible back room cabal to pre-select their next mayor.  They prefer to keep that choice for themselves, as demonstrated in 2010 when voters turned up their noses at the candidate pre-selected by The Star’s Star Chamber.

Toronto’s Mayoral election is unique in Canada.  By virtue of its near year-long duration, it serves much like a U.S. style primary, as well as an election.  In the early months, voters can kick the tires on a number of candidates who are then whittled down by lack of popular and financial support, until there is left only a manageable field of ballot choices.

It’s not a perfect system.  But, it’s democracy.  If we don’t like it, we should appeal to the Province to allow political parties to manage the nomination process and play a role in municipal politics.  I’m not sure that’s better.  But, allowing self-appointed elites to gather in smoky rooms to pre-ordain who our candidates should be is anathema to democracy.