Monday, September 5, 2011

Toronto's Direct Democracy Failure

Torontonians should be ashamed of the hundreds of their fellow residents for their behaviour in reaction to Councillor Mammoliti’s Facebook group. What began as a positive and open appeal for Toronto residents to give their ideas directly to City Councillors has quickly become a trashed, useless Facebook group.

Mr. Mammoliti’s idea was one that has worked for thousands of years and traces back to the very basis of democracy – consulting your fellow constituents. With all of the changes taking place at Toronto City Hall, the government has taken the unprecedented initiative to constantly involve the public in their discussions.

Whether it was the budget being passed or funding for new programs, Mr. Ford’s government has been sure to keep in touch with its residents and give them the opportunity to speak. In fact, the only other example I can think of that even comes close is Prime Minister Stephen Harper taking to Facebook to allow users to vote on what the Harper family should name their cat. A small example with no bearing on the governance of Canada, yes, but important nonetheless.

Mr. Mammoliti’s idea is no different – he wants to hear from Toronto residents on what they want to see in their public services. And without a doubt, there have been some excellent ideas put forth in the Facebook group.

However, the Councillor also wants to hear real, progressive ideas, not “Communist” ideas as he called them. Is this the best use of the term? Probably not. Was the underlying message that he wants progressive ideas that will help Toronto instead of hurt it? I think so.

People are now flocking to the Facebook group to poke fun at the Councillor, threaten the mayor, and bury any good ideas behind hundreds of spam messages. For every responsible citizen suggesting “hey, let’s do this” or “Councillor, would you like to try that?” there are 200 others throwing every possible expletive at Mr. Mammoliti. When I was first invited to the group there were about 250 members and the discussion was overwhelmingly positive. Never before have I seen a politician personally create a Facebook group and then ask “what do you think about daycare?” or “what can we do with the homeless?” – thought provoking questions indeed. But now, barely 48 hours later, membership has quadrupled, and all of the discussion is centred around who can make the most slanderous remark.

Thank you, Mr. Mammoliti, for creating a group with such a well-intended goal. Torontonians: since you’ve proven you’re not mature enough, don’t expect any other public consultations in the near future.