Thursday, January 26, 2006

Every citizen a councillor

If we can get the OMB to issue a few more rulings, everyone will be able to be a councillor. The London Free Press reports that the recent ruling by the Ontario Municipal Board ordering London to replace its seven two-councillor wards with a redrawn fourteen ward map with a single councillor each may have unintended consequences.

Second-place finishers in London's municipal election in the fall may be legally entitled to seats on the new council, says a city lawyer and municipal law expert.

If Alan Patton and others are right, the size of council would balloon to 33 members under the new 14-ward electoral system imposed by the Ontario Municipal Board.
According to Patton and George Rust D'Eye, a Toronto lawyer hired to head the city's appeal of the OMB's ruling to the Ontario Court of Appeals, the OMB has jurisdictiion if it chooses over municipal electoral boundaries but the Ontario Municipal Act permits only council to change the number of councillors per ward.
And because council didn't make changes before the Dec. 31 deadline for the next election, two councillors must be elected for each ward, Patton said.

"The regulation is still in place — it's the law," Patton said. "If someone who finished second came to me and said they weren't given a seat on council, my advice would be to take it to court."

[…] On the face of it, it seems pretty absurd," said Sam Trosow of Imagine London. "Clearly, (the OMB's) intent was for there to be one councillor per ward and to do anything else would be an absurd result I don't think the courts would allow."
Clearly, Trosow has become accustomed to thinking that because he says it is so, it will be so.


bonnie abzug said...

You forgot to mention, Mapmaster, that Trosow is but a landed immigrant and should have no right to comment on issues of municipal governance, that Alan Paton has only the best interests the City at heart, that the mission statement of the London Free Press clearly states its unwillingness to ever spin a story, that the judge hearing the case in Divisional court will be incapable of applying some common sense to the argument (that won't be made by the City), and that the OMB is precluded at law from issuing a supplementary ruling to redress any absurdity that might (but won't) result.

MapMaster said...

Ah, well, I'm less concerned with Trosow being a landed immigrant than with his objectives, as I am less concerned with Paton's objectives than with whether he is correct in the matter of the law. As far as the Free Press goes, I simply found the story very amusing and decided to put it up on that and no other basis. Of course, it will never (I think!) come to pass that the city will have 33 councillors, but with any luck the reading of the law, if Paton is correct, will influence a judge into at least restraining the implementation of the order until a further review. Whether or not the judge will apply any common sense is beyond me — although I do not have a great deal of faith in the city's lawyers. As you can see, I'm not above justifying the means by the ends!

That's too bad about the OMB being legally restrained from a supplementary ruling. Well, I am being sarcastic, but actually I did not know that bit of information. In any case, the OMB's first ruling was so monumentally flawed I can't see any advantage in their making another one. I have written before on the flaws of the ruling (first link in the above post). At some time in the near future, I hope to post my opinion that in fact London's current electoral system is a far better model for good governance than Trosow's or Gate's. (Warning: I will be quoting some nasty right-wing American constitutional framers!) To the future!

One thing I could have mentioned is that Imagine London's supporters at AltLondon are fair-weather friends of the OMB, scathing in their indictment when the Board ruled against their pet progressive peeves, but suddenly brooking no criticism of a ruling in their own favour. But I didn't think that would be completely fair, either, or germane for that matter.

I am working on a reply to your previous comment — with any luck, it will be up tonight, but tomorrow seems more likely as I'm tired and I feel like I'm becoming unproductively acrimonious instead of productively rational. I spend my whole days in front of a computer, then I go home and do the same. I should be reading a book instead.

bonnie abzug said...

Mapmaster, of course "Imagine London's supporters at AltLondon are fair-weather friends of the OMB". I daresay each and every one of them would be in full support of any proposition to abolish the Board. But, as I've said in other places, its more than a little disingenuous of Tom Gosnell et al (and especially Alan Paton, the puppetmaster of the et al) to complain that the OMB is infringing upon Council's prerogatives to govern as they see fit when this same group is quite comfortable running to the OMB to overturn other decisions of council that are not to their liking. Gosnell et al are pissed because its never nice to be hoisted on one's own petard.

MapMaster said...

Well, we are in almost perfect accord. As with AltLondon, I would support abolishing Grandpa Board as well, or at the very least severely curtailing its purview and powers. And for pretty much the same reasons for which you note Gosnell's disingenuity — I should very much like to see the city face the consequences of its planning decisions without being rescued or overturned by the Board. We may even see more sensible planning if the Board were abolished. Here's what I've written before:

The OMB's decisions in favour of developers have in the past, disproportionately perhaps by anti-development lobbyists, compromised its perception as an impartial arms-length arbiter. However, those decisions have often managed to curb the arbitrary and politically-motivated regulatory excesses of politicians who pander to NIMBY-style opposition to development — the OMB frequently rescues cities from irresponsible economic policy and heavy-handed property restrictions. These ends, though necessary, are obtained at the expense of allowing elected politicians to take populist stances on development issues without having to be held accountable in the end. Loosening restrictions on municipalities' planning authority may be an unappealing prospect — London has spent $220,000 so far in legal fees in unsuccessful attempts to defend the recklessly political Richmond Street zoning bylaw — but local government in Ontario will remain a child's game until voters and councillors are not saved from the consequences of their dirigiste fantasies. A little competition in regulatory regimes in Ontario would punish those towns and cities that allow their elected politicians to pander to their own "I got mine" prejudices.

You will never find a word of praise for Tom Gosnell in these pages, and if I happen to agree with him that the OMB's decision regarding wards is flawed, I have no reason to suspect that our reasons are the same. As far as Patton goes, I have no problem with him — he merely represents the interests of his clients, as he is paid to do. That developers are often at odds with the city, or are perceived as financially influencing the city's decisions, is hardly surprising and does not merit the pejorative sentiments against them — after all, the system is rigged against them, and they have to pay and peddle influence to do business at all. I've written on that subject before too at some length.

Pietr said...

Of course, the really devilish detail of ward heeling is this:
a two councillor ward will have two Liberal Candidates, two Conservatives and two NDP.
So any small party wishing to cash in on the 'protest vote', such as Nazi or Communist parties, will only put out one candidate per ward.
Thus they will receive the undivided rejection votes of two or more regular candidates and greatly increase the chance of returning a single councillor per ward, or very much more per city.
This is a means of infiltration I was able to observe first hand when standing as a Conservative against the BNP in a (3 seat) ward in Yorkshire.
The BNP almost won in three city wards, and would have gone from zero to significant in a single campaign.

In a single councillor ward, the vote is undivided so the chance of a minor party returning a win is reduced, unless that party concentrates on local issues in particular wards-a much more labour intensive proposition.

You can put that down as 'practical politics' as well as 'theory'.

bonnie abzug said...

Now I really am confused, Mapmaster. I thought that the whole purpose of your fetishization of property rights was that these rights vest in the owner of the property and must be held free from the possibility of expropriation by others. And then I read your denunciation of “politicians who pander to NIMBY-style opposition to development”. It occurs to me that there are perfectly rational (and, dare I say it, “libertarian”) justifications for opposition to development that go right to the heart of property rights. Well, property rights in the sense that what I possess I should be able to possess without interference from others.

For most people a home comprises the largest part of their non-retirement income. We can insure our homes against losses from fire, or theft, or acts of god or war and the like, but we cannot insure them against what are called “adverse neighbourhood effects” – i.e., those actions of others that have an effect on the value of our property. Because there is no such thing, to my knowledge at least, as insurance against the loss of market value due to adverse neighbourhood effects, we often look to zoning regulations as a second-best alternative.

It is instructive that you choose the Richmond Street development freeze. This particular example of NIMBYism was a classic example of, for the most part, owner-occupiers of homes in the neighbourhood concerned with the conversion of more and more single-family homes to multi-residential (and often multi-storied) student housing. There were any number of factors influencing owner-occupier opposition to these conversions – anti-student biases, concern with the loss of heritage properties, concern with the loss of owner-occupiers, noise and garbage, and so on. It makes no difference why they were opposed. The arguments were framed, as they ought to have been, in terms of negative effects on property values. It even makes little difference whether the loss in property value was an actual loss, a potential loss or just a perception of the possibility of a loss. The loss could be seen as nothing other than an expropriation of the value inherent in their property.

So, as I started out by saying, I’m confused by your antipathy to NIMBYism.

If what gets your knickers in a knot is only government expropriation of property rights, and that private individuals should be free to merrily expropriate the property of others based on their own self-interest, you should just say so. Though my rather superficial research on the subject at didn’t support this view:

The core idea is simply stated, but profound and far-reaching in its implications. Libertarians believe that each person owns his own life and property, and has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life - as long as he simply respects the same right of others to do the same.

Another way of saying this is that libertarians believe you should be free to do as you choose with your own life and property, as long as you don't harm the person and property of others.

MapMaster said...

The quote you cite is correct as far as I'm concerned. The difference is simply what constitutes "harm" to the property. Needless to say, this subject causes some consternation among libertarians — but suffice it to say that in order to recognize a harm as contestable or actionable, it must be demonstrable. That said, I am not contradicting myself at all.

The loss could be seen as nothing other than an expropriation of the value inherent in their property.

But not the property itself! The value of property is not owned by the individual — property value is determined by its relative worth to everything else accorded by all other potential buyers and sellers.

The problem with "not in my backyard" is that it really means "not in your backyard."

You sure keep me busy! I'm still considering a response to the comment left in the other thread, although I'm trying to design a website this weekend. Maybe I should withhold my reply until you tell me what the "possibility that must not be mentioned is"!