Whatever happened to civility at city hall?
A Town Crier Community Column
A recent a full page newspaper ad ran with a simple message printed on a red background: ‘Offer your seat to a stranger … Sometimes all it takes is a small gesture to brighten someone’s day.’
The statement is inserted in a box with the suggestion to cut this thought out and keep it for future reference. Why are we seeing this? Why now?
I think we all know the answer. For whatever reason, we live in a world that has become increasingly uncivil. But I think it is more than that. Uncivil, impolite, take-no-prisoners behaviour has become de rigueur. Just like polite, civil behaviour was once elevated, now, bad manners and self-centredness is considered the way to get ahead.
One need not look very far to discern the evidence of this, especially in our political and public environment. At city hall we have a bountiful supply of examples of this kind of behaviour perpetuated and embraced by the current administration. The Fords have single-handedly used threats, insults and bullying as their main tactics in their conduct of the city’s affairs — so much so, that we have an outcry, not only from the citizenry, but from major players at city hall, including Ombudsman Fiona Crean.
This is unprecedented and it comes directly as a result of the recognition that the Ford Administration is trampling and abrogating the traditional recognized divide between the political level and the professional, bureaucratic level of government. Their device is played out in a reign of terror, threatening senior city officials with firing, demotion and public humiliation.
The hugely unfair and unwarranted attack and subsequent sacking of Gary Webster, chief general manager of the TTC, is proof positive of the Fords’ my-way-or-the-highway method. What was Gary Webster’s sin? He offered expert advice to the commission, the council, the mayor and the people of Toronto on how Torontonians would get the largest benefit for our limited TTC expansion dollars. While subways are nice and frankly preferred by all, the reality is the larger community is better served by a plan that provides surface transit like Transit City.
And it’s just not civil servants who are threatened and discounted in this way. On the night city council agreed with Webster’s advice to pursue the Transit City model, Ford declared that the decision made by the officials who you elected was “irrelevant”. This is truly a new low. It is dishonest and demeaning not only to the politicians, but ultimately you, the citizens.
The lesson in this is civility and respect for others is the very underpinning of our democratic principles. The whole point behind democracy is the belief everybody counts, everyone has the right to their opinion and everyone should not fear retribution for holding ideas contrary to the status quo.
But take heart; based on the ad I saw, there is obviously a constituency and a desire to turn things around in our public discourse. This is an important direction that must be embraced by governments and elected representatives, because as we well know, a productive, healthy environment for change and making hard decisions is enhanced when there is mutual respect and a spirit of cooperation.
In the case of city hall, the current administration must realize it is the public they serve not their political whims, and that their brutal and bullying behaviour does not only discredit them, it also does a great disservice to our mutual interests and community spirit.
We deserve better in Toronto.
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