Ontario government to dramatically cut Toronto city council size ahead of upcoming election
The Ontario government is set to introduce legislation that will see the number of Toronto city council seats cut dramatically in the upcoming municipal election, Global News has learned.
“We’re going to reduce the size and cost of Toronto’s city hall so that decisions can be made quicker while services can be delivered more efficiently and effectively,” an internal email containing “talking points” about the proposed changes said.
“Nobody in Ontario believes that we don’t have enough politicians — in fact it’s the opposite.”
The email, which was obtained by Global News, was sent to Progressive Conservative government members on Thursday. It said the legislation would create 25 wards and councillor positions.
The 2018 election is the first since the City of Toronto changed its ward boundary structure, which happened earlier this council term. The last review was done in 2000. Three new wards were created and 47 councillor positions were created, up from 44.
According to the email, a higher number of councillors makes it difficult to “get things done.”
“An over-sized council makes it almost impossible to build meaningful consensus,” the email said.
“As a result, infrastructure crumbles, the housing backlogs grows and transit isn’t built.”
The deadline to register to run for mayor, councillor and school board trustee positions across Ontario is 2 p.m. on Friday. Election day is on Oct. 22.
Under the proposed legislation, the nomination deadline would be extended to Sept. 14, according to the email. It said the changes wouldn’t impact mayoral races and the mayor’s powers wouldn’t be changed.
Provincial and municipal government sources confirmed to Global News that the legislation could be introduced as early as early next week.
The proposed changes would eliminate elected chair positions in the regions of Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka. Chairs in Durham, Halton and Waterloo would continue to be selected as normal.
Caught up in the move to eliminate elected regional chairs are former Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader Patrick Brown and former Liberal cabinet minister Steven Del Duca. They were vying to run in Peel and York regions respectively. Both were unavailable for comment Thursday night.
Premier Doug Ford has scheduled a news conference for Friday morning to make an unspecified announcement.
John Mascarin, a partner with the law firm Aird Berlis and a specialist in municipal law, told Global News Thursday night that cities receive their authority from the provinces and therefore the move would be constitutional.
“The province rules the roost and they can do so constitutionally because the provinces were given the authority to look after municipal institutions,” he said.
Mascarin cited previous court decisions surrounding the amalgamation of Toronto in the 1990s. He said the courts found provinces have the authority to determine whether a municipality exists and how it will be structured.
With respect to the timing of the provincial government’s announcement, Mascarin said implementing changes before the October election will be difficult.
“It’s so late in the game. [Friday] is the last day electors can file their papers to be nominated,” he said.
“You’re talking about the largest city in Canada. I don’t know if administratively the [City of Toronto] can start changing the rules now … there may not be enough time.”
A spokesperson for Mayor John Tory said in a written statement that Ford and Tory spoke Thursday night. The statement did not get into the details of the conversation, but it said Tory will make “a major statement to reporters” Friday morning.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a written statement late Thursday that the proposed legislation would mean “less accountability and transparency.” She said the proposed changes weren’t a part of the provincial election campaign earlier this year and there wasn’t any consultation process.
“It’s clear that Mr. Ford wants a smaller number of councillors to have more power, fewer checks and balances, and less accountability. This is obviously a move to make it easier for the premier to control Toronto city hall,” Horwath wrote.
“And reports that Mr. Ford is cancelling elections in which his political enemies are running — elections for the chairs of the York and Peel regions — are deeply chilling.”
When asked for reaction to the proposed announcement, Toronto Councillor Joe Cressy called it a “back of the napkin plan.”
“It would be a disaster for the 2.9 million residents of our city,” he told Global News.
“What this would mean is fewer opportunities to influence the safety of their streets, the improvement of their parks, the type of development that comes into their neighbourhoods.”
However, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, an ally of Ford, told Global News he is in favour of the proposed legislation.
“I think it’s about time and I think if we want a real effective municipal government, we need to streamline our decisions,” he said.
“It’s wonderful news for taxpayers.”
A rally has been organized through Facebook to protest the proposed cuts. It is scheduled to take place at Queen’s Park on Friday at 6 p.m.
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.