The tiny, tidy minds of reformers.

Reading about the recent report on political reform for our cities from the University of Manitoba, reminded me of my old friend David Crombie. It was almost 50 years ago that he was still a nascent conservative and teaching at Ryerson and I was handling communications for the Ontario Liberals. We had some spirited and somewhat sophomoric discussions at the time about how to reform municipal politics. I guess David won. Toronto seems to still be recovering from what he did as mayor.

David got the sobriquet “tiny, perfect mayor” for his reform attempt at restricting any further development in Toronto at the time to a 45-foot height. He was trying to make a point and it certainly stuck—the name, not his height by-law.

David’s Civic Action Party (CIVAC) was also short lived but he went on to three terms as mayor. He and his supporters on Toronto council, such as John Sewell were identified with cities guru Jane Jacobs who urged them on in their fight against developers. What they did was create a delaying action that set the city further and further behind in development, in infrastructure and in progress and prestige.

Remember that the City of Toronto, at the time David was mayor, had a population of less than 700,000. All David did with his height restrictions was to send the developers to the suburbs and that was where the growth was taking place. Toronto is now a city of 2.8 million and its governance is a constant headache for the provincial government.

But more serious than that was the cruel end to talk of some form of party-type politics at city hall. The job of mayor has been a hopeless task since then as a growing city council with more and more councillors usurped the powers and controlled the chief magistrate.

When Premier Mike Harris tried to end the misery by amalgamating the city with its major suburbs, we ended up with 45 councillors who could out gun any mayor who did not treat them with respect. And Torontonians ended up with an on-going war between the inner city and suburban councillors.

David and I had disparate visions of reform those many years ago. I am sure that if any of our reform ideas were enacted, the years between would never have been as much fun.

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