A dimension of comparison that scholars of political parties have not paid enough attention to–and that means me, too–is the presence and impact of direct election of big-city mayors in countries that are parliamentary at higher levels of government (national, state/provincial, etc.).
This week’s election of the mayor of Toronto is a case in point. With direct election, we see some of the same dynamics of “presidentialization” at the local level that David Samuels and I find for national-level presidential politics in Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers.
The election results show a victory by Rob Ford, with 47% in a multi-candidate field.
Like many a presidential candidate, he won by emphasizing himself, personally, as an agent of change. And even though he has served on the city council, he is an “outsider” in the sense of not having allies, as the Globe and Mail commented the day after the election:
Before he ran for mayor, Mr. Ford was an isolated city councillor who often failed to understand the issues he was ranting about at city council. As a candidate, he ran on a series of simplistic slogans that say nothing about the real problems of a grown-up city.
Certainly, not the sort of leader who could become “PM” of the city, were the city to have a parliamentary system like the province of Ontario or Canada at the federal level.
The election represents “a wave of voter anger” and saw a record number of new faces elected to the city council. However, none of them are part of a party or team elected specifically to support Ford. Indeed, Ford comes into office with what the Globe and Mail calls “an aggressive agenda of cost-cutting but also a proposal to slice council in half.” One doubts the council will cheer that idea.
The election is by first-past-the-post, and it had many of the classic dynamics of FPTP in a multi-candidate field. The second-place candidate, George Smitherman, had 35.6%, and Joe Pantalone was third with 11.7%. The fourth candidate, Rocco Rossi, dropped out of the campaign, saying:
Despite my efforts to focus this race around issues and ideas that I feel matter, it has become clear that the majority of Torontonians have parked their support with one of two candidates: Mr. Smitherman or Mr. Ford.
All federal MPs from Toronto are currently Liberal or NDP. Yet the voters of the city have taken advantage of the direct election to choose a right-wing mayor.
With direct election, the process of selecting the mayor of Toronto could hardly be more different than the selection of the premier of the province or the PM of Canada. The federal parties may be “taking notes” on the Ford campaign, but the lessons will go only so far, given that the differences in executive type that structure their campaigns.
Some other parliamentary democracies also have directly elected mayors of large cities, including Japan and the U.K. There may well be a literature about this “presidentialism embedded in parliamentarism” that I have missed.