The Problems of City Government
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 21 Nov 1907, p. 107-115
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Speaker
Wickett, S. Morley, Speaker
Media Type
Text
Item Type
Speeches
Description
The early settlers who strove for an ideal, as evidenced in their constitution. Applying this ideal to the subject in hand. How the ideals that we form for our local government affect more than we perhaps may be inclined to think at first the ideals of the wider political field of the Province and the Dominion. The problem of municipal government essentially a modern one. A brief glance through the history of the development of municipal government. How the new world has been handicapped in meeting the problem of city government. The lack of traditions of organization. The professional responsibility of departmental officials as the key to the success of the old world in its governmental affairs. Having had to work out organization on the gallop, with a sometimes unsatisfactory result. Municipal activity dependent on the efficiency of local organization and the extent to which municipal business is regarded as business, not politics. The problems before the country today: to determine to what extent the Dominion Government is entitled to interfere with local administration, especially in connection with radial railways, street railways, and electric power; the relation of the Province to the municipality; the problem of municipal ownership; the problem of civic organization, to which the speaker calls our attention. The division of municipal work into various departments. The elective Council. The need to get the right men to take charge of our work if we want good municipal government. An indication of the lack of professional responsibility in Canada with regard to the Council. The lack of departmental reports and of municipal statistics. Expecting too much of our Aldermen. The issue of the length of term of office. The system they have adopted in Prussia, in contrast to ours. Some details of administration of Council. The appointment of Controllers. The invitation to Mr. C.R.W. Biggar, the late City Solicitor of Toronto's Municipal Council to draw up a model charter for the City of Edmonton. Details of some of his suggestions. Regina's adoption of the Edmonton charter. Winnipeg's adoption of the Board of Control idea. A similar adoption by several other cities in Ontario. Working towards a division of work between the Aldermen and the administrators in such a way as to relieve men who are willing to sit in the Council and to give time for the study of municipal problems and the cares of detailed administration. A summary of the situation of today, and the tendency to which we are headed.
Date of Original
21 Nov 1907
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English
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Full Text
THE PROBLEMS OF CITY GOVERNMENT.
Address by MR. S. MORLEY WICKETT, B. A., PH.D., before the Empire Club of Canada, on November 21St, 1907.

Mr. President and Gentlemen,--

The early settlers of Connecticut, those celebrated Puritans, in drawing up their constitution, started with these words: "The laws of this commonwealth shall be the laws of God until such time as we are able to improve on them." I do not know whether, in the light of that statement, a person is entitled to criticize the later constitution of the Commonwealth of Connecticut and its political practices of today or not, but what is important is that those early settlers strove for an ideal; they tried to realize that ideal; they fell short, perhaps, and we will all agree, too, that perhaps Moses, if he were living today, would not turn to a New England constitution to get pointers for a revised edition of the Decalogue. But, Sir, the reference has an application to the subject in hand. The ideals that we form for our local government affect more than we perhaps may be inclined to think at first the ideals of the wider political field of the Province and the Dominion. If we have a Tammany in our city, our Provincial and our Dominion politics must necessarily be influenced. If we have a rotten civic administration; if we have inefficient departmental heads; if we have a poor municipal council; we can only expect that the people who go out from our city into wider political fields must necessarily have their ideals more or less shattered.

In taking up this subject of civic government, let me say first that the problem of municipal government is essentially a modern one. There were large cities in ancient times, but they were comparatively few. Jerusalem had about 100,000 population at most, although during the times of the Passover it is estimated that possibly 200,000 more came into the city or camped round about it. Thebes had 300,000, Alexandria probably 700,000; Rome had 1,000,000 it is estimated; but a great many other cities that bulk large in history had a comparatively small population. Athens had not, at its furthest development, more than about 35,000 free population; and Sparta five to ten thousand less. That was a very curious situation in Rome, when, with the decline of agriculture and the flocking of rural labourers into the city, the population swelled very rapidly and they did not know what to do with the people. Prices of food were raised, rents were raised, and the governors, in order to satisfy the populace, built magnificent palaces to give them employment. To relieve the population they transported 12,000 legions on one occasion back to their native provinces. The people were not able to earn their own living, and in the end they crushed the city and the Empire. Syracuse, itself a magnificent city, divided its population into five walled towns. However, that leads us into another field.

In the Middle Ages, with its raids of barbarians, the populations were scattered and the small towns that grew up and bulk large in history were simply gatherings of people around a market, around a fort, around a castle, around a monastery, etc. If you visit cities such as Cologne, or Frankfort, or Nuremburg, or Vienna today, you will find that the circle marked by their walls is a very narrow one, and that the population could only have been a small one. As a matter of fact, and crossing over to England, we find, even in that progressive country, that the population of cities on a large scale is a comparatively recent phenomenon. For instance, in London, in 1400, there was only 35,000 of a population, and in 1800 there were only some 860,000 people. In 1800 one-sixth of the Scotch lived in cities; now two-thirds of them. In England one-fifth lived in cities; today three-fourths of them, In France the rural population is declining, and the only growth in the population is found in the cities. Paris has multiplied five times during the last century. When we turn to America or Canada, we find everywhere most striking illustrations. In 1871 there was practically no Winnipeg; and today a magnificent city. In 1891 Toronto had less than 100,000, and today its population is estimated at 350,000. The services performed by municipalities have also changed markedly. Rome, the leader in municipal services, provided good roads, fresh water, good sewers. As a matter of fact, the Romans were so proud of their sewers that they named them after their famous goddess, Venus Closana.

In the Middle Ages the services performed were trifling affairs. For sewers they had open gutters, no pavements, practically no roads, no sidewalks. If you went out at night you carried your own rush light and bodyguard. The justice was a matter of determining the scales of the market and the like, slight justice, administered by a Royal official, or an official of one of the guilds. But we come down to modern times, and we find we have sidewalks, sewers, telephones, electric lighting, and policemen (sometimes). We have schools and public libraries, and laundries, and bath-houses, and there almost seems to be no end to the services that are demanded of a municipality today. I think we can say that the modern world, through the activity of the municipality, is a new world, an entirely new world, compared with the town life of the Middle Ages, or the town life of antiquity. Now, in meeting the problem of city government the new world, particularly in comparison with the old world, has been handicapped. We have no traditions of organization. The key to the success of the old world, in its governmental affairs, has undoubtedly been the professional responsibility of its departmental officials. We have had no such traditions. We have had no traditions of organization; towns springing up here like mushrooms have made it necessary for us to appoint officials. We have had to appoint committees of one kind or another; we have had to work out our organization, on the gallop, and the result was sometimes very unsatisfactory.

A few years ago Mr. Bryce, the British Ambassador at Washington, in studying the field of government in the United States came to the conclusion that the misgovernment of the United States cities was the one conspicuous failure in United States government. Since his statement municipal students and municipal bodies have given great attention to the problems of organization, and today it can safely be said that municipal students are agreed as to the solution of organization. They differ, anal naturally, as to the extent of municipal activity; they must differ on such a point, because municipal activity will depend on the efficiency of local organization and the extent to which municipal business is regarded as business, not as politics.

The problems before this country today, municipal problems, it seems to me, are these: In the first place, to determine to what extent the Dominion Government is entitled to interfere with local administration. We have that question in connection with radial railways, street railways, and electric power, and other problems. The second question is the relation of the Province to the municipality; to what extent the Province should interfere or prevent the municipality from carrying out its own wishes. For instance, our City Council must go for additional power to the Legislature, and municipal business is hung up until they get that power. Undoubtedly a Local Government Board would be an excellent thing. A third great problem is that of municipal ownership; to what extent municipalities should- undertake to supply various services; and, fourth, there is that of civic organization, and it is to this problem that I wish to call your attention in a few words.

Municipal work is divided here amongst various departments. We have the engineer's department, taking charge of sewers and water and street cleaning and the like. We have the Assessment department, taking charge of the assessing of property. Then the tax collectors, to collect the taxes; the Treasurer's office, to handle the moneys; and the Solicitor's office to advise on the legal points. We have an elective Council-Mayor and Aldermen. They are elected yearly, and subcommittees of the Council appointed for each department, to confer with the departments and report back to Council. As I said, the keynote of municipal success is dependent upon the efficiency of the departmental heads. We have yet to learn, I think, in this country, the value of a good man. A single mistake may cost a municipality very dearly. At a Congress of Cooperation in England one speaker said: " I have never yet seen an individual who was worth more than one hundred pounds a year. If he gets more than that he is stealing." Now, that shows one point of view. I have heard it again anal again, and I think you have -"Any official who gets more than two thousand or three thousand dollars is overpaid." In this country I have not been able to find more than about two officials who receive more than $5,000 a year. The result is that mere who are worth more than two or three times that sum can get it in other services and are using the municipal service merely as a stepping-stone to something more remunerative. If we want good municipal government, we must get the right men to take charge of our work; not necessarily select them from the locality -advertise for them over the whole continent, go to Europe for them; but we must get the right men.

As regards the Council, I may say as an indication of the lack of professional responsibility in this country I would call your attention for a moment to the lack of departmental reports and of municipal statistics. The ideal municipal reports are reports that indicate to the Council and to the public the work of the department in the past and in contemplation. If those reports are inadequate or wanting, it shows very clearly that the departmental head is not taking into confidence the Council and the public. Municipal reports--statistics--mean if they are well prepared, a comparison of costs of one municipality with another. If we have adequate reports we would know whether our city is being economically run or not, because there would be comparisons with Montreal, Winnipeg, and the like. There would be a standard of comparison. As regards the Council, I think we are expecting too much of our Aldermen. We expect them at present to do both legislative and administrative work; legislative work to determine the policy of the city; administrative work to see that that policy is carried out. As long as we have departmental irresponsibility we will necessarily have to depend upon the Aldermen for the administrative work and supervision. An Alderman comes into the Council, and what does he find? He finds that the appropriations are pretty well made for the year. He has no chance in his first year of leaving his mark, practically speaking. In a few months he must retire and go through again the expense and annoyance of an annual election. We expect him to do all kinds of work, legislative and administrative; we expect him to go clown and see where a railway siding is to be laid, a sidewalk, and the like. I remember having a personal experience once about laying a sidewalk, and the City engineer's recommendations were over-ruled; and one year after the sidewalk was re-laid where the Engineer recommended it in the first instance. If we do not rely on expert advice, we must necessarily rely on inexpert advice.

We not alone expect too much of our Aldermen, but I think it can be said that we make the conditions of tenure of a chair in the Council as disagreeable as possible We compel the man who comes out, willing to serve his fellow-citizens, to expend two or three hundred dollars in an election. We expect him to do a lot of work in the Council that he should not do. We expect him to come back in twelve months anal go through the election again. I quite agree that there are other municipalities in Canada that are breaking away from the annual term of office--for example, Kingston and Halifax, which have a three-year term, and Quebec, which' has a two-year term, etc. A great many municipalities have two and three-year terms. In the United States they have from two to four years; on the Continent from three to six years. The Mayor here is elected each year. By way of contrast, I would like to tell you, in a word, the system they have adopted in Prussia. The Mayor is a lawyer, a trained municipal lawyer, who serves his apprenticeship in a Mayor's office, who is also a lawyer, and at the end of his apprenticeship he applies for the position of Mayor of a township, or a small village or municipality. He is accepted. If he makes a success of it as an administrator, he is invited, perhaps, to a larger municipality, probably to a small city. One of the highest honours in his career is to be invited to be Mayor of one of the big cities-Cologne, Leipsic, Berlin. He is an expert whose whole professional reputation is at stake.

Contrast that with our system. We take an inexperienced man; whether he is a successful business man or not, or a successful lawyer, he knows nothing of the details of municipal government; and we invite him to occupy the chair. At the end of twelve months he has to come again for re-election. It is a tradition, perhaps, to re-elect; very well, at the end of two years we begin all over again, and expect that these magnificent public works which the municipality has undertaken, involving millions of dollars of capital, and put in charge again of a new man and new Council, will be carried to a successful termination. We have been working in the, direction of a combination of an administrative Board of Control with an elective Council. We have been trying to relieve the Council of a good deal of administrative work. We have been working out in a most interesting way, but very slowly, an administrative board, called the Board of Control. It was decided that the Aldermen would appoint Controllers from among themselves, with a few hundred dollars more salary--Aldermen, $400; Controllers, $700. Later on it was decided to elect Controllers at a salary of $2,500, the system we have at present.

Mr. C. R. W. Biggar, the late City Solicitor of your Municipal Council, and a man very familiar with municipal organization in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere, was invited to draw up a model charter for the City of Edmonton. He provided for an elective, Council for two years, and a Board of Commissioners, who were at the same time departmental heads. It is a combination of the Board of Control and departmental heads-a most interesting organization. I may say that Regina has lately adopted entirely the Edmonton charter. Winnipeg has adopted the Board of Control idea, as well as several other cities in Ontario. We are working in other words, to a division of work between the Aldermen and the administrators, under whatever name, whether called Commissioners or Controllers, in such a way as to relieve men who are willing to sit in the Council and to give time for the study of municipal problems and the cares of detailed administration. The Board of Control is working out so as to be a supervisory administrative body. It might almost seem that if the departmental heads were the right men we would not need an administrative Board of Control. But the work of a city is so multitudinous that probably it is necessary to have an elective administrative board to secure popular control for the work of the city.

Summarizing, then, the situation of today, the tendency seems to be this: In the first place, it is towards greater departmental responsibility as the basis of municipal success; in the second place, towards an elective Council for a longer term of years; in the third place, the creation of an administrative board to relieve the Aldermen of a great deal of their administrative work, and then to secure administrative efficiency; and in the fourth place, to develop, because that would be absolutely necessary if departmental responsibility is realized, a more satisfactory system of municipal reports and municipal statistics which will enlighten the Council and the public with regard to the municipal situation. We have in the past devoted a great deal of attention to our Dominion constitution and to our Provincial constitutions. The result has been that the municipalities have been overlooked. They have been growing in size, and their undertakings growing in importance from year to year until at the present moment we have come to feel that the organization with which we have been attempting to carry on our civic work is that suited rather to our earlier village life. In other words, as Professor Goldwin Smith has again and again pointed out, " "we are attempting the government of great cities with a village organization." That seems to me to be a summary of the present conditions. If w-e are to have satisfactory government in the near future it behooves us, if we cannot go into the Councils ourselves, to endeavour to get the best men into the Council; encourage them to come out, and encourage them in intelligent municipal reforms.

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The Problems of City Government


The early settlers who strove for an ideal, as evidenced in their constitution. Applying this ideal to the subject in hand. How the ideals that we form for our local government affect more than we perhaps may be inclined to think at first the ideals of the wider political field of the Province and the Dominion. The problem of municipal government essentially a modern one. A brief glance through the history of the development of municipal government. How the new world has been handicapped in meeting the problem of city government. The lack of traditions of organization. The professional responsibility of departmental officials as the key to the success of the old world in its governmental affairs. Having had to work out organization on the gallop, with a sometimes unsatisfactory result. Municipal activity dependent on the efficiency of local organization and the extent to which municipal business is regarded as business, not politics. The problems before the country today: to determine to what extent the Dominion Government is entitled to interfere with local administration, especially in connection with radial railways, street railways, and electric power; the relation of the Province to the municipality; the problem of municipal ownership; the problem of civic organization, to which the speaker calls our attention. The division of municipal work into various departments. The elective Council. The need to get the right men to take charge of our work if we want good municipal government. An indication of the lack of professional responsibility in Canada with regard to the Council. The lack of departmental reports and of municipal statistics. Expecting too much of our Aldermen. The issue of the length of term of office. The system they have adopted in Prussia, in contrast to ours. Some details of administration of Council. The appointment of Controllers. The invitation to Mr. C.R.W. Biggar, the late City Solicitor of Toronto's Municipal Council to draw up a model charter for the City of Edmonton. Details of some of his suggestions. Regina's adoption of the Edmonton charter. Winnipeg's adoption of the Board of Control idea. A similar adoption by several other cities in Ontario. Working towards a division of work between the Aldermen and the administrators in such a way as to relieve men who are willing to sit in the Council and to give time for the study of municipal problems and the cares of detailed administration. A summary of the situation of today, and the tendency to which we are headed.