Ford confirms cuts to council, calls Toronto 'dysfunctional political arena'
Premier Doug Ford is vowing to slash the size of Toronto city council almost in half, a move that Mayor John Tory says is “not right,” “not fair” and ought to be the subject of a referendum.
Ford announced on Friday morning that his government will table legislation on Monday that will slash the number of councillors in Toronto from a planned 47 to 25 in time for the Oct. 22 election.
The premier also said that he would cancel planned regional chair elections in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka and revert to an appointment process that was in effect prior to 2016, effectively halting the campaigns of former PC party leader Patrick Brown in Peel Region and former Liberal cabinet minister Steven Del Duca in York Region.
The moves undoubtedly have the potential to plunge ongoing elections campaigns into chaos but Ford told reporters on Friday that “taxpayers will be happy to trade a bunch of politicians at city hall for millions of dollars” in savings.
Ford also brushed aside suggestions that he is unilaterally imposing the changes after not mentioning anything about reducing the size of municipal governments during the provincial election campaign.
“I consulted with thousands of people right across the city and every person I talked to said you have to reduce the size of government,” he said. “No one has ever said to me ‘Doug we need more politicians.’ In fact it is the opposite. People tell me that we have too many politicians making it hard to get things done and making it harder to get things built.”
Ford said that slashing the size of Toronto city council will save municipal taxpayers $25 million over four years, however it is not known whether additional staffing costs related to larger wards could cut into those savings.
On Friday, the premier called Toronto council the “most dysfunctional political arena in the country” and said that it is his hope that it will function more fluidly with a reduced number of councillors.
He also repeatedly mentioned that Los Angeles, a city of nearly four million people, has only 15 city councilors, though there are 97 neighbourhood councils that handle some aspects of local governance in that city. There are also numerous other cities in North America with comparable populations to Toronto that have larger councils, including Chicago where there are 50 elected members. In Canada there is a significant range in terms of the size of city councils with 64 people sitting on Montreal’s city council but only 10 plus the mayor on Vancouver’s city council.
“We have 25 MP’s, 25 MPP’s and 25 school trustees. Why do we need 47 councillors?” Ford asked.
Tory calls for referendum
Ford’s plans to slash the size of city council came just hours ahead of a 2 p.m. deadline for candidates to register for the upcoming election, though officials within his government say that deadline will now be pushed back to Sept. 14 for council candidates.
Speaking with reporters at a hastily-called news conference on Friday morning, Mayor John Tory said he is “angry” over the manner in which the changes are being thrust upon the city.
Tory said he actually only found out about the changes after reading a report in the Toronto Star on Thursday night, though he did concede that Ford mentioned the idea during a meeting the pair had at Queen’s Park two weeks ago.
“I sort of dismissed it on the basis of saying well that is not something that could be done and the matter was dropped. I didn’t have the sense he was pursuing it,” Tory said. “This is not right, this is not fair, it is not respectful of the people and it is not a proper process to be followed when it comes to a major decision having to do with our democracy.”
Speaking during a debate at city hall on Friday night, Coun. Mike Layton said he wanted to know who in the chamber knew about this change prior to reports circulating on Thursday evening. In response, Tory stood up and raised his voice at the city councillor.
“I was honest today when I was asked a question and I was honest in talking about exactly what I knew, which was not much – it was about a 50-second discussion that I had that went nowhere and it gave me no indication whatsoever of any intention to do anything. I called it amusing but I was honest about it,” he said.
“I think you should be ashamed of yourself when you get up in this chamber and you demean this place, you demean me and more importantly you demean yourself when you get up and you call my integrity into question.”
After being interrupted by Layton, Tory said the city councillor owed him and the chamber an apology.
“Get up if you have the balls to do it and say it,” the mayor said.
Number of wards was subject of years-long review
The number of wards was supposed to increase from 44 to 47 in time for this year’s municipal election following a years-long boundary review process that included extensive public consultation.
As part of that review, a slimmed-down council of 25 members in which ward boundaries would mirror existing federal ridings was considered but ultimately dismissed.
A report from May, 2016 noted that “only a very small number of councillors and the public supported” that scenario, which it said would see the capacity to represent “reduced significantly.” Furthermore, the report said the model would not meet the “test of effective representation going forward,” as the population of the 25 wards would vary from 96,614 to 135,298 by 2026.
“Right now I am frankly in absolute shock,” Ward 21 St. Paul’s Coun. Joe Mihevc told CP24 at city hall on Friday. “We went through a whole year to decide what is the right number of councillors and how we can best serve the City of Toronto and now to throw a bomb at this late stage, two-and-a-half months before the election, we are just all in shock.”
Mihevc said that “local democracy and local accountability” is at stake as a result of the proposed changes. He said that while the province may have legal authority to impose the changes they have “absolutely no moral authority” to do so.
For his part, Tory said that while he is open to having “a discussion about the size of council,” he can’t support a process in which a “gigantic decision about the City of Toronto” is “rammed down our throats without a single second of public consultations.”
“They promised to be a government for the people, they campaigned on that every day and so I would say to the premier and his government, be true to your words. If you are truly a government for the people than let’s put this question to the people and let them decide,” he said.
Tory moved a motion at today’s meeting of city council asking the city clerk to hold a referendum on the prospect of reducing the size of city council to 25. He said that he will also seek a legal opinion on whether the province is within its rights to unilaterally alter the size of city council.
“While I don’t question that the province has very broad authority to deal with the City of Toronto there are words in different statutes that may allow for us to assert very forcefully the notion that there is some degree of cooperation and consultation that is expected and required here,” he said.
Matlow calls plan ‘anti-democratic’
After the news of the cuts surfaced on Thursday night, Ward 22 St. Paul’s Coun. Josh Matlow called them “anti-democratic” and “reckless” while Ward 14 Parkdale Coun. Gord Perks accused Ford of “taking a wrecking ball to democracy.”
Liberal Member of Parliament Adam Vaughan, himself a former city councillor, also came out against the changes in an interview with CP24 on Friday morning, calling them among “the most idiotic things” he has ever seen proposed.
“You have got 123 agencies, boards and commissions that have provincial laws and regulations that require a certain set number of city councillors on their board of directors to run, from Toronto Hydro to the library, the police and the TTC. It is not as simple as just cutting 25 city councillors or 30 councillors; there is myriad of legislation that is impacted by a transition like this and it has not been thought through to the point where it is just absolute chaos right now.”
Coalition of nine councillors back changes
While the reaction to the proposed changes has been largely negative at city hall, a faction of nine sitting councillors did hold a press conference on Friday afternoon to publicly support them.
That group included three members of John Tory’s executive committee in councillors David Shiner , Michael Thompson and Cesar Palacio .
“You just have to look at what has happened in the last week to know that we are dysfunctional. We started on Monday, this is the longest meeting we have ever had, it is Friday afternoon and we still haven’t come close to finishing. We added more items to the agenda in members motions that the agendas that was set by council in January, March, April and May,” Shiner, who represents Willowdale Ward 24 said. “There needs to be efficiency in government.”
“This is not about my job. This is about taxpayers and doing the right thing for taxpayers,” added Palacio, who represents Ward 17 Davenport. “People are saying ‘We are concerned about community safety, we are concerned about the fiscal infrastructure of the city and we are concerned about having a functional government.’ This is the right time to do the right thing for taxpayers.”
The average population of Toronto’s municipal wards was 60,958 when there were 44 of them but would increase to more than 110,000 with 25 wards.
Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark defended his government’s decision on CP24 this afternoon, saying a smaller council would be more nimble.
“Look at what (Ford) said this morning, I agree with him, I think this is a good opportunity for us to have a council that on day one after that Oct. 22 election can do good things.”
He said Ford has entertained the idea of shrinking Toronto City Council for “years” and said it was not a means at getting back at any councillor that may have irked him or his later brother when he was on council or running for mayor.