Wanted: Toronto city councillors.
Must work a minimum of 60 unscheduled hours per week, including evenings and weekends; often attend nine-hour meetings as well as numerous press conferences, ceremonies, and social functions, including backyard barbecues and high school debuts.
Must have a high tolerance for abuse and invective.
Salary is a flat rate, not commensurate with education, experience, hours worked, customer satisfaction or assignments performed.
No wonder Toronto councilors are showing up for exits — seven of them so far.
While this opens up opportunities for seven new faces and new voices, it means Toronto is losing a cadre of seasoned politicians as the city emerges from a pandemic that has seen revenues plummet and spending soar, creating an ongoing financial challenge that the new board will have to meet. almost from the moment members take the oath. Change is fundamental to democracy, but the mass exodus raises questions about whether the city can attract the right candidates. In the era of the Great Resignation and unstable public discourse, is being a city councilor still a coveted role?
Councilors say the volume of work following the reduction in the number of wards from 47 to 25 in 2018 has been overwhelming and is taking place against the backdrop of troubling shifts in Canada’s political culture that have resulted in vicious and sometimes violent personal attacks against elected officials. .
“If you want to have a life other than your job, you can’t really be a councilman,” said John Filion (Ward 18, Willowdale).
“Work burns people.
And that begs the question of whether it’s time to increase advisors.
The base income for Toronto city councilors in 2022 has been set at $120,502, excluding benefits, and $202,948 for the mayor.
All of this is taxable, and Toronto’s elected officials do not earn additional stipends for serving on boards and committees, with the exception of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and Housing Services Corporation (HSC).
While civil service salaries above $100,000 tend to trigger reflexive outrage, raises for Toronto councilors have long been limited to increases no greater than the annual increase in the consumer price index. consumption in Toronto, despite the dramatic increase in neighborhood size in 2018.
In fact, a lot has exploded in recent years: Toronto’s population, commercial and residential development, and the complexity of issues like affordable housing and service delivery for sudden influxes of refugees and homeless people.
In the private sector, advisers could earn between $150,000 and $250,000, depending on their education, background and experience, says Randy Quarin, senior partner at IQ Partners Inc., an executive search firm and consulting firm. recruitment based in Toronto.
“They’re not paid at the same level as they would be in other industries, and I would say even other levels of government as well,” Quarin said.
The base income of an MP in the same wards, with the same borders and the same number of voters, is $189,500.
MP salaries have been frozen for 14 years and currently stand at $116,500. In June, Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner, J. David Wake, suggested that Ontario should consider lifting the MPP salary freeze.
Premier Doug Ford recently circumvented the problem by appointing 73 of the 83 members of the Progressive Conservative caucus to the position of parliamentary assistants. The appointments come with additional duties and an annual salary increase of $16,600.
Among the seven councilors leaving, Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 13 Toronto Centre) and Michael Ford (Ward 1 Etobicoke North) have made the jump to provincial politics. Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina—Fort York), Mike Layton (Ward 11 University-Rosedale) and Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 16 Don Valley East) said they wanted to spend more time with their families. Ana Bailão (Ward 9 Davenport) said she was ready for a change. Filion, 72, is retiring after 40 years in municipal politics.
Myer Siemiatycki, professor emeritus of politics at Metropolitan University of Toronto, said there was more at play in the seven departures than idiosyncratic factors.
He and others cite Doug Ford’s decision to reduce council size, nearly doubling the size of precincts, as the main reason councilors might not be as motivated as they otherwise would be to sign up for four. other years of public service. The volume of work means that they are less in contact with the people for whom they are engaged in politics.
“I think a lot of councilors were starting to feel they were cut off from the sort of appealing grassroots quality of street-level local government,” Siemiatycki said.
Siemiatycki said it’s no coincidence that most departing councilors have the greatest workloads due to the amount of development in their neighborhoods.
But he doesn’t think the current salary package discourages qualified and capable people from running for office.
“Most politicians pursue public office, especially at the local level, because of a commitment to serve and a commitment to bettering their communities,” he said.
“I think what drives most of them to leave is the feeling that they can’t deliver and realize the idealism that brought them to public service in the first place.”
Minnan-Wong agrees that people don’t run for the money – he didn’t. But he says higher pay could attract more professionals, for example doctors and engineers.
“You have to lure them away from their other work assignments,” said Minnan-Wong, who is himself a lawyer.
He said that given the number of people leaving at the same time, the city could consider exit interviews, in order to collect more detailed information on the reasons for the exodus.
Siemiatycki and advisers said another reason for the loss can be found in the changing tone of political debate in Canada, which is becoming increasingly polarized, resulting in vitriolic and even violent attacks.
“Nobody wants that much anger directed at you for trying to do a good job and it’s kind of out of control,” Coun said. Paula Fletcher, running again in Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth.
Filion was the victim of violence twice during this last mandate. In 2019, a man armed with a pipe tried to break into his home. Three weeks later, someone fired bullets at his house and his car. No one has been arrested. Filion has since moved.
Siemiatycki cites rocks thrown at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2021 election campaign and attacks on Filion as a new and unacceptable risk for elected officials.
“It’s almost as if there’s a danger-paid quality to serving in public service and in government. The stakes have been raised by the level of hostility, vitriol and physical threats against officials,” he said.
“Those who contribute to this climate, either as politicians themselves or in the mass media or on social media, they have a lot of guilt for it.”
Com. Shelley Carroll (Ward 17 Don Valley North) hopes the mayor’s next term will consider the idea of a governance review committee to find ways to improve the work.
She said her children are grown and although she is an active grandmother, she has more guilt-free time to spend at work than others with younger children.
“Let’s make it manageable for advisers,” she said.
Jay Goldberg, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, opposes the idea of a pay raise for Toronto councillors.
“With Torontonians facing high inflation, a high cost of living and struggling to make ends meet, now is not the time to raise the salaries of city councillors, who are already firmly on the Sunshine List. “said Goldberg.
The Sunshine List includes all public sector employees earning more than $100,000 a year, a figure established in 1996.
Siemiatycki says the departures provide an opportunity for more women and visible minorities to be elected.
“This time we’re going to have a lot of new faces on the board,” he said.
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