Friday, 12 August 2011

The Victims of Rob Ford's Democratic Deficit

Once in a while when my friends and I are bemoaning the state of city hall, some variation of the statement 'who could have voted for these guys' will be mentioned. Maybe even 'how could people be so stupid to vote for them'. Admittedly, I find it hard not to wonder this myself sometimes when I see the triumverate of Mammoliti and the Fords embarrassing themselves and the city on a regular basis. However, I think this anger points the finger at the wrong target.
Ignatieff, one of the world's leading experts on citizenship, probably doesn't like Rob Ford.

Ideally we should have a citizenry that is engaged, critical and thoughtful. That is, one that not only receives services but shows respect for other members of society, takes on responsibilities that are not legally required and shapes the discourse for what civic life means. But we don't live in that ideal. And that's OK, instead we get a diverse and inclusive civic environment where all votes are worth the same regardless of the level of civic involvement. 

The downside of this is that sometimes the person with the most developed or truthful ideas doesn't win. And in the 2010 mayoral campaign's race to the bottom it was Rob Ford who won in spite of his ideas, capitalizing on this information gap. I bring this up because of today's Toronto Star in which David Rider reports that Team Ford anticipates city hall layoffs in contrast to their campaign promise. Ford's campaign promises sounded pretty good and he was seen as a 'straight shooting man of the people' so it's easy to see how people bought into them. A quick look:

  • No service cuts
  • No layoffs
  • Improved 'customer service'
  • Accumulate 1.7 Billion surplus by end of term in office
  • Pay down debt by $850M
  • Build a subway line
  • End Vehicle Registration Tax
  • End Land Transfer Tax    

That all sounds pretty nice. Of course, it's absurd to think you can have all your current services, get a subway line, decrease city revenue and increase city reserve savings simultaneously. But most voters only pay limited attention to the news and follow politics through cursory headlines, which is how someone like Rob Ford can get away with blatant misinformation.

When each of these headlines are seen separately, they look great even though they are nonsensical and contradictory as a collective platform. Voters aren't stupid, they're disconnected from the overall conversation. And that makes sense as not everyone can go to the city hall website, follow the Rogers TV feed, be a pathological slave to Twitter information or put up with nonsense that politicians say.

When politicians are able to enact bad policies though, let's not blame voters but keep politicians accountable.

As citizens, we're the victims

We're the victims of a political discourse either cynically and manipulatively led by people who know the ideas are unfeasible or the victims of politicians who are completely incompetent except in their own self-promotion.

We're the victims of a democractic deficit as much as a structural one. 

This is the biggest inefficiency Team Ford has found at City Hall and requires fixing through engagement, illustrating how policies affect lives and holding politicians accountable for their choices. As much as Ford might be able to take advantage of this deficit, people can take it back and reclaim City Hall politics as their own site for engagement and discourse. 

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