A visionary and a doer: a full glass
As we move forward towards a new municipal election across Ontario, we must think what is needed from the candidates, what characteristics would make a great mayor or councillor.
There are many useful qualities but two are absolutely necessary: to be visionary and a doer.
Visionary means to have the capacity to see where we should be in 20 or 30 years, as well as to know what needs to be done today, to get us there.
Nevertheless it is not enough to know where we need to aim; the politicians also need to have the managerial and political capacity to make the necessary decisions to get things done. A “doer”
Let’s see two examples of “successful politicians” in the GTA who each represents a half full glass: Hazel McCallion and David Miller.
Mayor McCallion has been very successful at doing things right, unfortunately not necessarily at doing the right things.
She took over Mississauga almost three decades ago, when it had a little over 200,000 residents, distributed over nice villages in Port Credit, Streetsville, Clarkson, Meadowvale, etc. Most of the land was empty, with beautiful creeks, woodlots, the Lake Ontario waterfront and the magnificent Credit River. Now it has over 700,000 residents.
What things were done right? Well, the city has no debt, home of many large businesses, and stability in the public sector.
At the same time, it seems impossible to find any area of the city where the new 500,000 people live which is quite as nice as the villages that existed long before the city was created.
It is not a pedestrian-friendly city, it's terrible for cyclists, has a poor transit system, and it has just developed as fast as the market wanted totally centered on the car. It is evident that the priority has been car mobility and not people’s happiness or healthy communities.
Another negative symptom is how it missed the opportunity when a few years ago all universities and colleges were building new facilities to satisfy the double cohort and it did not attract a single one, leaving just the UTM; no wonder so many parents complain that their kids want to move as soon as they can as “there is nothing to do in Mississauga.”
Another worrisome symptom is how although 51 of every 100 residents were born in another country and 41 per cent are visible minorities, amongst the councillors, city manager, commissioners, and directors (over 50 people) there is just one visible minority, which is not a proper representation of the city’s residents; no one is suggesting to have the same proportion of residents, but one is clearly not enough, and this is a time bomb.
On the other hand, Mayor David Miller represented a fresh change from the mediocre Mel Lastman, whose lack of education and world exposure made us look bad quite often. Toronto had the bad fortune of having had a mayor with neither the vision nor the capacity to get things done at a most critical time, which was the amalgamation, and excessive wrong decisions were taken with long term impact.
Miller represented a new politician: well-educated, visionary, with a great understanding of where Toronto was and what was needed to do to become a world class city.
Unfortunately, as he concludes the second and last term, it is evident that he did not fulfil the high expectations. He brought back the respectability and aura to the office and the city, but not much more; so many expectations and so little done.
This shows why it is important to elect mayors with both a clear vision and the capacity to get things done. Vision alone creates frustration, while action by itself results in chaos.
The democratic system provides us with the magnificent opportunity to choose our leaders. Let’s take full advantage of this privilege and over the next few months approach all candidates across Ontario to drill them on issues, knowledge and experience, in order to have the necessary elements to decide on who to vote for.
It would be an enormous privilege for any municipality to elect a mayor with Miller’s visionary capacity and McCallion’s ability to implement it. Those two half-full glasses would make one full with the real possibility of transforming any municipality in the next four years.