Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Unseen Side of the Levy Candidacy

Columnist's Tory candidacy provides outlet for inter-caucus tensions

There are actually a variety of different takes on Sue-Ann Levy's decision to run in the upcoming by-election in St Paul's.

Some have hailed Levy as a dream candidate. Some have insisted Levy's candidacy will be embarrassing for the party. Some have merely panned it as surprising.

While running a "married lesbian" under the umbrella of a party led by someone who came into his leadership on the strength of former Premier Mike Harris' support certainly helps to soften the party image, there's also a much-overlooked underside to Levy's candidacy.

The Levy candidacy provides the party with a release valve for internal tensions over whether or not the party should involve itself in municipal politics.

Earlier this month, a spat took place within the Progressive Conservative caucus when MPP Bill Murdoch spoke out against Norm Sterling's proposal that the party advocate for the extension of party politics to municipal government.

"I think the problem in big cities is that they do not have political party structure. The councillors never present a vision for the city. They talk about stop signs, they talk about playgrounds, they talk about bus stops. They each have their own little fiefdoms, and they tend to those fiefdoms. Councillors do not have an interest in the whole, only in their own bailiwick," Sterling suggested. "We have to have party politics because there is nothing to force individual councillors to take a position on the general direction of the city as a whole. We don’t see strong government under the current system."

Sterling had even proposed using powers granted provincial governments under the Constitution to impose this change.

"The provincial governments have constitutional authority and mandate to deal with municipalities and it is incumbent on us to look at some different models and see if we can do better than we are doing now," he added.

Murdoch denounced the proposal, suggesting it "takes away the right of the members [city councillors] to think for themselves." Murdoch mused that getting political parties involved in municipal politics could lead to city councillors taking directions from party officials.

Hudak chose not to get directly involved in the debate, simply noting that the Ontario PC party has no policy on the matter. He did, however, Appoint Murdoch to his shadow cabinet as critic for Municipal Affairs (rural). That could certainly be viewed as an implicit endorsement of Murdoch's views.

Levy is known as a vociferous critic of Toronto Mayor David Miller. Her candidacy could be interpreted as an olive branch to Sterling and his supporters who believe the party should be involved in municipal politics -- at least to the extent that the party would have a much stronger voice.

It should be noted that the Sterling/Murdoch dispute has had previous episodes -- Sterling was previously offended by Murdoch's opposition to John Tory's policy regarding religious school funding -- but has been relatively quiet since this most recent confrontation.

But if Sue-Ann Levy's nomination can soothe some of the bruised egos over the party's policies on Municipal Affairs, that's merely another benefit Hudak will reap from her candidacy.

Considering the anxiety of many St Paul's Liberals over the by-election, this is likely just the icing on the cake. But hey. Icing's icing.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Matt Guerin - "Sue-Ann Levy's candidacy doesn't mean Tim Hudak's gone centrist..."

Dr Roy Eappen - "Ontario Grits scared?"


  1. Party politics at the municipal level?? That is the last thing Toronto needs. Party discipline and a whip to keep the troops in line. Vision does not have to come from a party. Members of a party vote as 'The Leader' dictates. Those with any backbone or conscience end up as independents - just as it should be at the municipal level. With parties you can end up with limp leaders like Dion. You can end up with a looser mayor like Miller but at least in theory the shackling party apparatus is missing. No, Toronto does not need party hacks dictating her affairs. Mr. Stirling is dead wrong.

  2. I concur fully. The independence of City Councillors not only leaves them with a fuller hand to represent their constituents, but it also makes municipal politics a refreshing -- if somewhat boring -- alternative to federal or provincial politics.


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