John Tory says it is in the “best interest of the city” to allow the election to proceed as scheduled on Oct. 22, even though the person responsible for carrying it out is now warning that it is becoming “virtually impossible” to ensure a fair and democratic vote.
In a one-on-one interview with CP24 on Friday morning, Tory said that he believes that Torontonians “have had enough with all the constitutional squabbling and election meddling” and just want to see their elected representatives “get on with the business” of governing.
He said that in order to do that the election must be held as scheduled. This despite the fact that legislation shrinking the size of council may not receive royal ascent for a few weeks, creating a logistical nightmare for city staff responsible for holding the vote.
“I think the date will stay the same because the staff of the city, who are terrific and have had to perform under unbelievable circumstances, have done a lot of work already. The election is planned a long time ahead and while there has been a big change made in the middle of it they have done a lot of the work and I think they can pull it all together,” Tory said. “I think it can be done and I think it is in the best interest of the city to have the election on Oct. 22 so that they can get on with the budget and get on with building transit.”
The bill reducing the number of municipal wards from a planned 47 to 25 was initially passed into law on Aug. 14 but it was struck down after a Superior Court judge deemed it unconstitutional in a decision released on Monday.
Premier Doug Ford is using the notwithstanding clause to make a revised version of the bill immune to charter challenges but the opposition has vowed to delay passage of that legislation as long as possible.
Tory said that while council has directed the city’s solicitor to challenge the bill in court, he conceded that the legal avenues available are “pretty narrow and few and far between.”
For that reason, he said that he is now just hoping that the provincial government can quickly provide final direction on the shape the election will take.
To do that Ford has taken the unusual step of having the legislature sit on Saturday, though it is not expected to sit on Monday and Tuesday of next week so MPPs can attend the International Plowing Match in Chatham-Kent, as per tradition.
“I am glad the premier has called the MPPs for the weekend because the sooner it can get passed the sooner they (staff) will have that certainty that allows them to proceed (with the election),” Tory said.
At an emergency meeting of council on Thursday, Clerk Ulli Watkiss said that she has retained an outside lawyer and would seek legal advice on whether she could push back the date of the vote if she deemed it appropriate.
Though Watkiss did not rule out holding the election as scheduled on Oct. 22, she said that the city has reached a “tipping point” and that it would be “virtually impossible” to carry out a fair vote using either the 25 or 47 ward models.
Speaking with CP24 on Friday, Tory’s main challenger in the mayoral race Jennifer Keesmaat said that Watkiss’s need for independent counsel “is a reflection of the state of chaos that we have been thrown into in this city.”
“People are looking for leadership from the city and for some certainty,” she said. “The underpinning of our local democracy is really being shaken to its core right now and I think that people are looking for answers. They want to understand what is happening. We are on the cusp of an election and we need that election to proceed fairly and on time.”
While the provincial bill slashing the size of council does permit the clerk to forgo advance polling at her discretion, Watkiss has indicated that doing so would create an unfair election and is not an option she is considering.
“Every hour that goes by, every day that goes by creates greater uncertainty and raises in me a huge concern over the proper conduct of this election,” she said.