How many elected representatives should there be?
The newly elected premier of Ontario has deemed that the city of Toronto has too many elected councilors. He has cut the number of councilors for this 3m-people city from 47 to 25. Because municipalities in Canada really don't have any constitutional rights, the province can do this legal act without any consideration for what Toronto really wants.
But this post is about the "right" number of elected councilors--or elected members of any elected body.
There is a trade-off here. Each elected councilor brings a certain expense to the process of government. The salaries of the representative and his/her staff, the office space and expenses, the trips to meet with the constituents, etc are somewhat fixed. The more representatives, the higher the cost to the taxpayer. But with fewer representatives, average citizens have less access to government. Our elected representatives (and their staffers) are very busy people and have to set priorities to determine which of their constituents get their attention. The premier's own brother, a former Toronto councilor, used to boast that he could personally return all constituents' calls. That would be much harder to do if the constituency suddenly doubles in size.
I have had recent dealing with government. I am advocating for a couple of injured workers with lifelong workplace injuries. Not understanding the system very well, they have let deadlines pass to appeal the decision of the provincial Workers' Compensation Board. I was hoping that the elected people could persuade the bureaucrats to open up the deadlines and let the workers' cases be given a fair trial.
My local MLA (member of the provincial legislature) is kind of useless in this regard. He is a right-wing fanatic and has little use for such social causes as worker compensation boards. Not only that, he has been caught stealing crumbs out of the provincial cookie jar which has meant being unofficially kicked out of his own party. He would not be taken seriously by any bureaucrat.
But one of my workers has moved to a different constituency. So I used his MLA for both cases. This MLA is not only from the governing party, but is also in cabinet, meaning a lot more influence. The MLA's staffer "tried" to help, but there has been no tangible influence that I could see. I need a different angle to pursue these two WCB cases.
In my days of party politics, both provincial and federal representatives used to set up one or two Saturdays a month to allow constituents to air their grievances with government. So for about six hours, there would be a series of 15-minute one-to-one meetings. Doing the quick math, it seems an elected official could meet with about 1,000 people a year for a 40,000-people provincial constituency or a 100,000-people federal constituency. Fifteen minutes is not a lot of time to make a case of any kind. And only a small fraction of citizens could meet with the official in this way. In other words, there is great competition for the official's time for not a great chance of anything really being done about the constituent's concern.
Going back to my WCB case, had I been an active member in the governing party, my concerns would have likely received far greater attention. This would have been regarded as a favor for all the electioneering I had done.
So maybe we have set the right number of elected representatives after all: just enough to make sure the politically connected get to have their influence. It would be interesting to know how many of those 1,000 people are party members. The less connected? They don't matter as much, right?