Hopefully, Monday’s election will lead to the type of ‘creative destruction’ Brampton so sorely needs
In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter coined the term “creative destruction”, which seemed a contradiction to many at the time, but suggested something that has become evident: you can’t create a new structure unless you destroy the old one.
It’s like a forest’s regrowth. A vibrant new canopy of trees is often dependent on the old, ravaged, petrifying one being destroyed by flames.
The Austrian-American economist was a true genius of capitalism – a process of constant breakdown, dismemberment and innovation.
Although this theorem made up only a few pages of his infamous tome, ‘Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy,’ it has, over the decades, been applied to other disciplines – including politics.
It’s clear this city has been engulfed in a number of political firestorms ever since regional government was introduced in 1974, “uniting” Brampton and Bramalea (that unifying term has never been an apt descriptor for the actual effect of the merger).
Those storms have not burned long or hot or destructive enough, to kill the very roots where disease took hold, for full-scale regrowth in Canada’s ninth largest city.
Will Monday’s election of a mayor and new councillors offer up the kind of creative destruction Brampton so sorely needs?
The numbers suggest otherwise.
Recent poll numbers by Forum Research published exclusively by The Pointer show the two front-runners for the mayor’s chair in a virtual dead heat, with both incumbent Linda Jeffrey, and challenger Patrick Brown, scoring 40 percent support from voters decided or leaning their way.
This suggests two possibilities: voters are evenly torn between two clearly viable candidates to move the city forward; or a clear majority have deep reservations about voting for either one of them.
The new poll closes the 8-point gap Jeffrey opened up on Brown in our first Pointer-commissioned survey conducted by Forum eight weeks ago, and hardens the belief that Brampton voters are fatally locked in a self-destructive cycle that will continue spiralling the city downward, regardless of who wins the coveted mayor’s job, a role intended to push the city forward.
It’s possible Monday’s victor will still lack the political consensus to get anything done.
In 2014, Jeffrey won nearly 50 per cent of the vote, but her four-year term was riddled with factionalism, with two camps picking sides, one for, the other against the mayor’s agenda – which included the extension of a proposed LRT line running straight up Main Street and through the downtown core.
It’s easily argued that Brampton’s growth has been stymied by polemics from the get-go and never-healing scars from old wounds that have prevented regeneration.
During the mayor’s debate at the Rose Theatre earlier this month, Brown pointed out that when the father of regional government, William Davis (who would later offer his endorsement), brought wholeness to the city, he also became its best salesman as premier of the province (1971 – 85).
Brampton was on the ascendency, “the envy of the GTA,” said Brown. It and Mississauga were virtually tied when it came to commercial real estate development, but in the last three decades our neighbours have leapfrogged us, creating: vast commercial and office growth; higher order transit; a richer, balanced tax base; a complete re-do of the downtown core; massive smart growth plans along its lakefront; and other key components that make Mississauga better poised to become a dynamic, future-ready city than Brampton.
It’s time for change, Brown told the audience, and new leadership. Of course, there is the chance that he or Jeffrey could lead a more united council than the last one, and start to play catch-up after another four years that seemed to set the city back forty.
The day after the election might be the perfect time to begin the revival. The chance for creative destruction of our old political order, is still very much in play.
Four new councillors will take their seats for the first time, replacing a tired unit that oversaw much of the ennui mentioned above. Regional councillors Elaine Moore, Gael Miles and John Sprovieri, and city councillor, Grant Gibson, were well past their best-before date, and are now headed into a rich retirement, thanks to taxpayers.
Moore and Miles were particularly polarizing figures. Moore did good work to challenge the secretive, authoritarian hand of past regimes, but was often the clear cause of council division. And Miles, well, she seemed to work hardest when a family member, friend or private sector donor stood to benefit. With their departure, hopefully the entitlement to operate above Brampton’s interests will be swept from city hall with them.
There are a total of 69 candidates locked into the 10 council races, and incumbents like Doug Whillans, Jeff Bowman, Michael Palleschi, Martin Medeiros, Pat Fortini, Gurpreet Dhillon (former city councillor in Wards 9 & 10 now running for the regional seat), might be vulnerable – creating the chance for wholesale change.
The past two councils have brought all forward movement in this city to a standstill. During the final four years of Susan Fennell’s 14-year reign, which ended with her defeat and Jeffrey’s election in 2014, the city was riddled with spending controversies, a city hall expansion project that was delayed, then ran over cost, and was eventually the subject of a $28.5 million civil law suit involving the city and a disqualified bidder (yet to be resolved).
Jeffrey changed the name on the door of the mayor’s office, but didn’t stem the tide of factionalism. She oversaw a council torn asunder by poisonous debate and constant in-fighting. She favoured a Main Street route for a proposed Light Rail Transit (LRT) line and removing the Lord’s Prayer from council meetings, and opposed such things as a pay hike for councillors, city bailouts of a golf course and a local hockey team. She was met by a stone wall of resistance from a majority on council. Two opposing sides collided and nothing much was accomplished.
Voters who believed Fennell’s ouster after 14 years of mismanagement and self-serving leadership, was the burn-the-forest-down-and-start-again moment in the city’s history, were sadly disappointed.
Maybe that’s why voters seem so torn by who to support this time, too. Pollsters have detected this split.
Jeffrey has already stated she will reintroduce plans to extend the LRT line up Main Street, while Brown issued a laundry list of promises – tough on crime, better transportation, a hold on property taxes, etc. – and has the backing of two of Jeffrey’s former arch-rivals, Miles and Moore.
Does that inspire confidence in him, or raise even more red flags – like a late-breaking story, skimpy on details, that says, according to leaked information from the provincial government, he issued rich payouts to his staffers while leader of the PC party of Ontario?
Do many question who was behind the eleventh-hour story and how the information was coordinated for certain media?
Does any of this portend well for the future of Brampton?
Some argue the city has always been ill-served by its political class and the often bitter tricks of its players. This pattern of division and ill-will on council has been around since regional government was introduced in 1974, and Bramalea was forced to become part of Brampton. The strain between Brampton and Bramalea-area councillors (the east side versus the west) became so acute that by 1986, an outraged faction from Bramalea took their own council to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to stop a plan to move city hall from Bramalea City Centre to the downtown core in the other side of the city.
That wariness seems jarring when compared to other communities like Mississauga which moved more seamlessly through the regionalization process.
By the time Fennell was in her last term, Moore tried to get council to vote in an integrity commissioner to look into a long list of problems impacting city operations. In typical Brampton fashion, Moore’s motion was at first ignored, then she was vilified, and then all parties, including Fennell (under increasing public pressure), agreed to the change. The mayor famously said at the time (2011): “Mark this as the moment when we come together.”
No, it did not. The moment quickly passed. By 2014, Fennell was out, Jeffrey was in, and her first move was a good and symbolic one: she took a $50,000 pay cut and brought in the former provincial auditor to find out what damage Fennell had actually done to the city’s finances. She then began cutting back on the costs of senior management staff, and put the entire administration on a more professional footing.
But the LRT debate turned nasty, the two opposite sides dug in and fired at each other, and the fighting, with little concern among career politicians about what was happening to the city around them, continued unabated throughout Jeffrey’s tenure at the top.
The feelings of hurt, betrayal, and anger between her and critics was both real and raw, and in her four-years, council never seemed so divided.
In an email to senior staff and fellow council members Miles described how she viewed the behaviour of her colleagues, as “cruel, malicious, underhanded and deceitful actions, deal making, vote trading, including personal attacks on other members of council and staff.”
Sprovieri, even put his name forward to run against Jeffrey (the recent Forum poll has him at 7 percent support).
While debate at city hall in Brampton has been raucous, personal, lively, absurd, and at times, just plain toxic, it has also been ill-advised. While other municipalities stand united to attract new businesses, or offer the best in services to beleaguered taxpayers, or the thousands of new citizens who have flocked here over the past decade, Brampton stalls out.
As residents grew increasingly desperate for proper healthcare in the city, Jeffrey and her foes dug in even deeper, drowning out the screams for help coming from citizens.
Traffic grew worse, violent crime left many scared to walk the streets and a lack of affordable housing caused people to beg for solutions.
All of it was drowned out inside city hall by the petty, personal grudge match between the people elected to lift Brampton.
Creative destruction reaches into every level of government. The United States was a house divided when little known Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860. For much of his first term in office, and some of the second (until he was assassinated), the country was in flames, nearly destroyed by Civil War.
But the war freed the slaves and created modern-day America, and it also produced a president whose reach far exceeded anyone’s expectations. Lincoln was wise enough to know that in the belly of destruction, there stirs new life, and the seeds of growth. War created a modern-day nation – a better one, a fairer one.
On the surface, Lincoln looked like a laconic hayseed, but he was a transformative figure, and confident enough in his own leadership abilities to name even his most staunch critics to his war-time cabinet. In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s epic history, Team of Rivals, she captured his ability to put aside petty personal feelings and work for the betterment of the whole. It’s what divides the great from the not-so-great leaders.
It’s the kind of broader approach Brampton needs in a mayor the day after this election.
Someone who has the self-belief to work in tandem with his or her rivals on council, and find a better way to serve the public – and grow this city.
It seemed, on the surface, the removal of Susan Fennell from office was the kind of creative destruction that Brampton needed to move forward, post-2014. But the fire didn’t burn hot enough and the forest remained intact – a brambly mess.
Maybe it will take another election to bring about the kind of firestorm needed to finally propel this city forward – whether it’s with Jeffrey or Brown at the helm?
The “perennial gale of creative destruction,” as Schumpeter put it, applies as much to politics as economics. It’s all about a ceaseless need for moving forward, and undoing bad patterns of behavior.
There can be no growth unless there’s political will, and inspired leadership – something sadly lacking in Brampton since the days when regional government was introduced. It didn’t create a new-look city, but exacerbated a divide between warring factions that has carried on in different ways until today.
The poll numbers in the race for mayor, suggest that we’re still a house divided, and both the pro-Brown and pro-Jeffrey camps have waged a nasty war for ultimate power that has, at times, turned off some voters, but is very much in keeping with our political history.
Perhaps this year, voters will choose a mayor and councillors unafraid to unleash the forces of creative destruction.
Perhaps the fire that sparked during the 2014 election, will finally burn down everything that was decayed and dying – and create some much-needed new growth for this city.
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