One of the key questions that has been expressed this year in our Toronto mayor’s race has been that of running the municipal government as a business. Rob Ford claimed to be able to do so… even though when elected he proceeded to alienate every one of his “clients” to provide what value he could (which was debatable) only to the taxpayers… not to citizens of this great city. Then Mr. Ford was diagnosed with cancer, and his brother took the reins, he also claimed to be like a businessman… even though his so-called business acumen has actually been more of a drain on the company that his family runs, and which his father started five decades ago (Globe & Mail, 2014).
John Tory has also claimed to be able to run the city as a business… though his crowning achievement, as an executive at Rogers Communication, is hardly one to boast about when speaking of government. Rogers is known as one of the largest telcom companies in Canada… though far from the most popular. Communication with their customers, client satisfaction and response are known to be poor (Huffington Post Canada, 2013); there’s even a “Canadians Against Rogers” Facebook page. Right now Toronto is known as a city that has a good relationship with its citizens, serving them well: not the kind of thing a business does.
The fact is that government should not be run like a business… as expressed in Forbes magazine (Harvey, 2012). Americans went through this kind of misguided leadership experiment some years ago, in bits and pieces; rather than learning from them, we in Toronto are proceeding to try our own hand at the effort (which, after the circus of the Rob Ford years, could be completely disastrous). Many, if not most, of the services a city like Toronto provides are not the kind of thing that can be done for profit. Even trying to be “efficient” in a business sense is a bad idea: because the first thing to be axed is human interaction, and that’s a problem in government.
Seth Masket, a political scientist who is also quoted in Forbes (2011), has also commented: “[T] to say that governments should be run like businesses is to reveal ignorance about what either governments or businesses — or both — are. Businesses exist to turn a profit. They provide goods and services to others only insofar as it is profitable to do so, and they will set prices in a way that ends up prohibiting a significant sector of the population from obtaining those goods and services.” (Masket, 2011) Governments should not be run for profit… least of all a city like Toronto. Our reputation: “The City that Works” in the 70s and 80s, and “Toronto the Good” from long before even that, has taken a severe hit from the drive to turn it into a business; and will continue to fail over the next four years if we continue to expect it to work like a business… which it’s not.