For someone who has spent a chunk of his book-writing career fixating on terrible lawyers (2008’s Lawyers Gone Bad), interventionist judges (2012’s Mighty Judgment, about the Supreme Court of Canada), and now terrible mayors, Philip Slayton has a surprisingly positive prescription for the problem of less-than-inspiring civic leaders. Slayton bookends his chronicle of bad mayors – which runs the gamut from the epic insanity of Toronto’s Rob Ford to the more run-of-the-mill incompetence of Winnipeg’s Sam Katz – with suggestions for improving the plight of the country’s metropolitan areas and, by extension, the quality of their mayors.
None of Slayton’s suggestions, including giving cities more power to collect revenue to pay for infrastructure and other programs without having to rely on the largesse of different levels of governments, are unreasonable. In many cases, the author’s ideas are already widely endorsed by people who study urban life in Canada, or by people who just live in a city and closely observe their relationships with higher levels of government. It is something of a leap, however, to think that more power at the municipal level necessarily will result in more responsibility. There is no shortage of politicians at every level of government facing criminal charges or investigations, from Senator Mike Duffy to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. And let’s not forget former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, who has been convicted of violating the Canada Elections Act and might well end up making the rare trip from the House to the big house.
Perhaps the most important suggestion Slayton makes involves installing political parties as a more formal aspect of city politics, though this notion is significant for reasons other than those he offers. In Toronto at least, the 10-month (or longer) campaign period in a massive media market has made it very difficult for anyone not very rich, very well known, or both to run for mayor. Party politics could provide a way to fund the best candidates, not just the wealthiest or the best-connected.
With that caveat in mind, Mayors Gone Bad is an engaging, occasionally breezy read that will appeal to people with a passing knowledge of municipal politics – just like the best mayoral candidates.