Tuesday, January 02, 2007

John Sewell and William Lyon Mackenzie

John Sewell has cast a large shadow over Ontario municipal politics for nearly forty years.

The first election campaign I worked intensively on was his failed re-election bid for mayor of Toronto in 1980. Since 1999 Sewell has published a Local Government Bulletin .

In his final bulletin Sewell notes it has become "harder to maintain interest as the opportunities for local government empowerment appear to have diminished." He is moving on as "the moment for change is in the air, and at this point there is little I can add to the debate. "


The bulletin always offered something current from the world of municipal politics. Back issues are still available.

Sewell's books are of interest as well. An earlier posting referenced A New City Agenda which was published a couple of years ago.

Another book - Mackenzie - A Political Biography of William Lyon Mackenzie - came out in 2002. Sewell's considerable research on this one took him to Scotland to track down Mackenzie's links to the Dundee Rational Instititution ( a club that championed intellectual discussion and debate of scientific matters) and Scottish reform politics of the day (1810 -1832).

Many forget that Mackenzie was Toronto's first mayor. His ideas on government and its relations with the public, documented and analysed by the author, remain relevant today.

For example, it was Mackenzie's strong belief that information should be available to the people and he put much effort into this by providing information through written documents and at public gatherings so that people could discuss and form their own opinions on issues. He convened ward meetings and valued the public's right to be heard by legislators.

One wonders what he would have thought of the Internet?

The man who was expelled from the legislature five times - not just for the day but for good - until the voters sent him back could have given some lessons on negative campaigning to today's pols.

Descriptions of political opponents were pointed ("a boot polisher"), personal ("a pitiful mean looking parasite") and nasty (the Lieutenant Governor was described as a "low born fortune hunter" and his wife as a "base born descendant.")

Politics, fun in the 19 century and still fun today.

Sewell's insights will be missed.