Police back Tory; you shouldn't
BY JOHN SEWELL
John Tory revealed a lot about himself in his reaction to his endorsement as the mayoralty candidate of choice by the Toronto Police Association last week. He said he was "thrilled."
Except he should have shunned this endorsement. By welcoming it so warmly, he signals he's willing to be part of the cronyism at City Hall which has been so rampant in recent years. We expected better. He's not the man to be mayor of Toronto.
Any good political process keeps the police service at a distance rather than asking for police intervention in the choosing of our leaders. Here in Ontario, that good thinking has been embodied in statute, and the Police Services Act and its regulations prohibit police from endorsing candidates or political parties. Yet that's exactly what the Police Association has done and John Tory, a lawyer, doesn't hesitate for a minute to notice that the law may pose a problem.
Cronyism is about twisting laws and rules for personal gain, which is what this seems to be. It's the same complaint people made about Barbara Hall embracing the "Friends of Barbara Hall" as a device to talk about the election in late 2002 when the law says campaigning couldn't begin until Jan. 1, 2003. Anyone who starts his political career in this way -- this is John Tory's first attempt to achieve public office -- can be expected to plunge more deeply into the maelstrom once in office.
There seems little doubt that Tory's proposal to hire 400 more police officers is one of the key reasons for the endorsement, although the prominence of a police photo on his website can't have hurt either. If elected, he'll be in the pocket of the police.
Worse, Tory's promise of hiring 400 new officers is nothing but pandering to a crude law-and-order agenda. The police service itself has outlined its current workload in its report, "2003 Environmental Scan," which sums up the 2002 data. That document says the number of calls per officer has declined by 10.6 per cent from 1998, and the number of crimes per officer has also decreased from 1998, by 5 per cent.
This must be the only municipal service that expands as its work load contracts. Crime, of course, is down, and the total number charged with Criminal Code offences in Toronto in 2002 was 47,383, a drop from previous years. This represents less than 10 crimes per police officer per year -- less than one a month.
In spite of this reduced workload, the service provided by police, as measured by the time it takes for police to respond to a call for service, is crummy. The report says only one-third of the responses to Priority 1 calls (they're the ones involving violence) occur within six minutes -- though the Service Standard says 85 per cent of the responses to such calls should occur within six minutes. Response time for non-emergency calls averages 27 minutes but only 76 per cent of non-emergency calls get a response within one hour.
In spite of all of these decreases in the amount of work and the number of calls per officer, the police service got bigger last year. Tory proposes an even larger increase next year. At the same time, he's said he'll cut the number of all other city staff by 10 per cent.
Can Police Association endorsement help a candidate? Most certainly. When I was running for re-election as Toronto mayor in 1980, the Police Association went after me. I had been an active mayor in policing matters. I had spoken out after police had killed Albert Johnston in September, 1979, the eighth person killed in a 13-month period, saying this was wrong, and while the Metro chairman Paul Godfrey and others criticized me strongly for speaking up, in fact not one person was killed by police for the next 16 months. I stood up for the gay community and demanded that police harassment end. I pushed hard (and successfully) for the establishment of an independent commission to review complaints against the police.
The Police Association publicly raised funds to have me defeated in favour of Art Eggleton. Signs were posted in many police stations reading "Flush Sewell down the drain." It was a big issue. On election night, my vote increased 25 per cent from 1978, but I lost to Eggleton by 2,000 votes -- one vote per poll. I suspect the actions of police association cost me at least 2,000 votes. The police celebrated my defeat two months later by staging a massive raid on gay clubs, arresting almost 400 people, although only a handful were ever convicted of anything.
This year, the election looks close. Many voters may feel they don't want to do something that would antagonize the police, and they may see the Police Association endorsement as a reason to vote for John Tory.
In all this, David Miller looks better and better. He has said -- both before the police association endorsement and after -- that the police endorsement is improper. He has said the police service should not be given more resources, but should manage its affairs better and find savings within its current large budget. It's a reasonable position.
Tory has said there's no difference between the endorsement of the police and that of city unions (Miller has the endorsement of the firefighters and the Canadian Union of Public Employees locals at City Hall.) But the law states police officers may not endorse candidates -- no such law constrains other city staff or their representatives -- and, unlike Tory's promises to police, Miller has made no promises to the firefighters or CUPE to increase the city hall work force or give city workers a special deal.
David Miller is the best choice as the next mayor of Toronto. He offers a serious, uncompromised chance to end cronyism and corruption at City Hall. He offers hope that this city can be repaired and restored, and hope's a precious commodity we shouldn't squander. Miller's the guy on Nov. 10.
John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto.