Mayor John Tory has written an open letter to Premier Doug Ford, asking him to “hit the pause button” on plans to slash the size of Toronto city council which he says are being pushed through “without meaningful consultation of any kind.”
Ford announced on July 27 that his government would reduce the number of municipal wards from 47 to 25 in time for October’s election, plunging an ongoing campaign into chaos.
In defending the changes, Ford claimed that he “consulted with thousands of people right across the city” but in his letter Tory took issue with the lack of any sort of formal public consultation process.
The mayor noted that the a years-long boundary review process prompted the city to expand the number of wards from 44 to 47 ahead of the Oct. 22 election and while he said that he was opposed to any increase in the number of councillors, he “at least respected the fact that the recommendation was the result of an extensive process including the public.”
“Something as fundamentally important as an election – a primary mechanism of civic democracy – should not be changed without public input and in the absence of a clear process or robust understanding of public impacts and costs,” he wrote. “In light of this lack of any public consultation, I urge you to consider putting the process on hold to allow for a referendum so we can let the people speak. To me, hitting the pause button is a sign of strength. I would respectfully suggest that the legitimacy of your government’s position dramatically increases if supported by a legitimate process.”
Ford has called Toronto city hall “the most dysfunctional political arena in the country” and has suggested that fewer councillors will allow decisions to be made more quickly.
He has also suggested that slashing the size of council could save the city $25 million over four years, however it is likely that additional staffing costs related to larger wards could cut into those savings.
In his letter, Tory says that no party raised the prospect of slashing the size of Toronto council during the recent election campaign and in his view “no party has a mandate for such unilateral action.”
He said the legislation, as proposed, “is contrary to common sense in terms of both the practicality of altering a live election process and in terms of our ongoing provincial-municipal relationship.”
He also said that it is “contrary to the spirit of the City of Toronto Act” and “possibly contrary to the law,” something that he said that city lawyers are currently looking into.
Speaking with reporters at an unrelated event later on Friday morning, Tory said it is his personal belief that any changes to the number of municipal wards should be part of a wider look at the city’s governance structure and include the possible introduction of term limits. .
“I believe the proper way to go about this would be to have a range of governance changes that could be made and I cite term limits as only one example,” he said. “There should be a broader examination of a number of these kind of things that should be put in front of the people for an informed discussion and consultation and then a vote.”
Ford pens letter responding to Tory
On Friday evening, Ford wrote a letter back to Tory responding to his accusations noting he ran on a promise to “restore accountability and trust in government.”
“We also promised to reduce the size and cost of government and end the culture of waste and mismanagement,” Ford wrote. “I have consulted with thousands of people who feel that in its current form, Toronto city council is dysfunctional.”
“I have always championed the idea of reducing the size of council in order to deliver better government for the people of Toronto.”
Ford mentioned the timing of the decision on a subway extension in Scarborough in his letter saying “we’re still waiting for a shovel to get into the ground.”
“Sadly, the dysfunction and political gridlock at city hall has prevented meaningful action on key files such as transit, infrastructure and housing.”
The decision to cut council, Ford said, will save taxpayers more than $25 million, which is funding that can be redirected to “other important priorities.”
The premier said the changes will be “fair” to current candidates as he has extended the nomination deadline.
Ford’s spokesperson defends changes
A spokesperson for Ford released a statement to CP24, noting that the proposed changes to the size of council will help ensure that it can “effectively deliver on the priorities that matter to the people of Toronto.”
“For too long the dysfunction and political gridlock at City Hall has held Toronto back on issues like transit, infrastructure and housing,” Simon Jefferies said. “The Better Local Government Act will help streamline Toronto City Council and make sure they can more effectively deliver on the priorities that matter to the people of Toronto, while saving taxpayers at least $25 million.”
Ford’s announcement on July 27 came just hours ahead of a registration deadline for candidates for council. He has said that the registration period will be reopened until Sept. 14.
Councillor candidate filing legal challenge
Toronto-based lawyer and Ward 13 councillor candidate Rocco Achampong is asking for an emergency injunction to prevent the passing of legislation that would shrink council.
“In the history of western democracy, no president, no prime minister, no premier, no monarch has ever interfered in an election in the way our friend, the good Premier Doug Ford is doing,” he told CTV News Toronto.
However, political analyst Jim Warren said he is not convinced that a challenge against Queen’s Park will have any impact as “they write the laws.”
“Any sort of court challenge can be overturned because they can just change the legislation,” he said. “I don’t think it will be effective because they won’t win.”