Mayors Gone Bad
Edited By: Philip Slayton
Format/Source: Advanced reading copy courtesy of the publishers via GoodReads First Reads Programme
Mayors Gone Bad, a series of profiles of recent and current Canadian mayors gone amok, is an entertaining companion volume to the bestselling Lawyers Gone Bad. Whether they’ve misappropriated funds, had cosy relationships with Mafia hoods, been caught with prostitutes, or admitted to smoking crack, Canada’s mayors are a colourful collection: Peter Kelly, long-serving mayor of Halifax, driven from office by investigative reporting of ethical lapses; Gerard Tremblay of Montreal resigned in suspicious circumstances; Michael Applebaum of Montreal faces criminal charges of fraud; Gilles Vaillancourt of Laval also resigned and faces similar criminal charges; Alexandre Duplessis of Laval left after a hooker scandal; Joe Fontana was convicted of fraud and is under house arrest; Susan Fennell of Brampton was under police investigation for possible criminal use of city funds; Sam Katz of Winnipeg was dogged throughout his mayoralty by conflict-of-interest allegations; and Rob Ford made headlines across North America as “the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto.”
But it’s not all bad news: Philip Slayton writes about the “western triangle of mayoral goodness,” Nenshi of Calgary, Iveson of Edmonton, and Robertson of Vancouver. Also, Slayton features four foreign mayors who have made an impact: Jón Gnarr of Reykjavik, Boris Johnson of London, Michael Bloomberg of New York, and Anne Hidalgo of Paris. Aside from creating a rogues’ gallery of mayors, Slayton offers insight into the nature of municipal government in Canada and speculates about why people seek the office of mayor. Little real power is exercised by any mayor, but the abuses of that power are nonetheless significant. As well, Slayton provides a series of proposals to reform municipal government. Written with the dry wit that made Lawyers Gone Bad a national bestseller, Slayton’s new book is an eye-opening look at how we are governed.
Despite having studied political science in my undergrad programme, I never really paid attention to municipal politics save for the odd by-law they wanted to introduce. It just never really interested me. And when it did enter my attention, it’s usually some craziness, like the Rob Ford fiasco (I talked about it a year ago or so in a post as suddenly council meetings became a whole lot more colourful). But it’s not just what was happening in Toronto; I was hearing news from places like Montreal and Laval where mayors were also being busted for criminal and unethical behaviour. So I was very much intrigued when I discovered this book on Goodreads as, omg, there were a lot of cases of Canadian mayors doing crazy things. I won an ARC of this book via GoodReads giveaways. This book was published on 19 May 2015.
The review from Chronicle-Herald states that “Mayors Gone Bad is a rollicking good read, impossible for political junkies to put down” and it is so true. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. The author does a wonderful job in outlining the biographies of these mayors, their rise to power, and the scandals that sent them packing. In some cases, the individuals themselves were interviewed; in other cases reporters and other people in municipal government were interviewed. There’s plenty of great anecdotes featured in each chapter dedicated to each mayor mentioned above, and Mr. Slayton writes in a way that’s interesting, informative, and plain amusing. I mean, these cases are sad and a poor representation of the cities these people are supposed to represent, but in the same vein the fiasco of the campaigns that follow are equally insane and highlights the sort of people who would run for this job.
Speaking of which, this book is especially informative in laying out to the reader the nature of the municipal political system. Municipal politics never interested me precisely because it was so fragmented and the real power that these people holds doesn’t amount to much. Everyone has this idea of what they can and cannot do at the municipal level, and the powers that are there do not reflect the reality and the impact of the cities that they are supposed to govern. Through this lens, it makes sense why the cast of candidates campaigning for the job can be rather bizarre at times. Mr. Slayton’s contrast with the good mayors of the west and with famous mayors from large cosmopolitans abroad serve further contrast to the situation Canadian municipalities find themselves in.
Mayors Gone Bad thus is a fascinating, informative, and at times even hilarious look at the absurd workings of municipal politics and the personalities that have found themselves caught and disgraced in their times of power. Whether you’re a political science junkie or curious about the way Canadian politics works, this book is definitely worth checking out.