No plans to axe Ottawa wards ahead of municipal election: Ford, MPP

Click to play video: 'Ottawa mayor Jim Watson reacts to Ford’s move to cut Toronto council seats' Ottawa mayor Jim Watson reacts to Ford’s move to cut Toronto council seats
Jim Watson, who's running for a third term as Ottawa's mayor, tells reporters he was "really surprised" by Premier Doug Ford's move to reduce the number of wards in Toronto. He said the premier's decision sets the precedent that a similar downsizing could happen to any municipality in Ontario – Jul 27, 2018

As news broke that Ontario Premier Doug Ford would move to dramatically shrink the size of Toronto’s city council ahead of the full municipal election, questions quickly surfaced about whether Ford would make similar changes to other Ontario cities. Ford says that’s not happening, at least in Ottawa.

If Ford’s changes are implemented, the City of Toronto would have 25 city councillors (down from 47) after the 2018 municipal election, representing a population of just over 2.7 million. That’s only two councillors more than the City of Ottawa, which has 23 representing roughly 935,000 people.

READ MORE: Ontario to introduce legislation to cut Toronto city council seats by nearly half

When asked by reporters at a news conference Friday morning, Ford suggested he’s not considering axing councillors’ seats in the national capital.

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“Let’s not even compare Ottawa … It’s apples and oranges,” Ford said. “When you compare a town the size of Ottawa, a beautiful city, compared to a city the size of Toronto … you can’t even compare it.

“You’re looking at a city that is eventually going to be 3-million people,” the premier added in reference to Toronto.

Shortly after Ford’s announcement, Goldie Ghamari, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Carleton, tweeted that she spoke to the premier Thursday night and he “personally confirmed” to her that he has “no plans to reduce the number of municipal wards in Ottawa.”

‘It doesn’t make for a good environment’: Watson

Scrumming Friday afternoon with reporters, Jim Watson, who’s running for a third term as Ottawa’s mayor, said Ford’s decision to gut the numbers of Toronto city councillors is concerning.

We have to treat the municipal sector as an equal order of government,” Watson said as he campaigned at a busy intersection in downtown Ottawa. “And while I recognize the province has the right to do what Premier Ford is doing, it doesn’t create for a good environment because if it can happen to Toronto, it can happen to another city like Ottawa.”

Despite this, Watson said he takes the premier at his word that Queen’s Park won’t be taking any seats away from Ottawa’s city council.

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READ MORE: Watson still ‘optimistic’ about Ottawa’s future under change at Queen’s Park

Asked whether he agrees with Ford’s likening of Toronto and Ottawa as “apples and oranges,” Watson said he doesn’t think Ontario’s two largest cities can be compared either. 

“You have to take into account not just population but geography and we have a lot of geography,” Watson said. “So I think that’s one of the reasons why [Premier Ford] is not touching Ottawa.”

Watson said early in the election campaign, he met with Ford and showed him a map demonstrating the municipality’s unusual geographic size compared to other major Canadian cities. Ford has never brought up altering Ottawa’s city council in conversation, Watson said.

A ward boundary review for Ottawa is expected to occur sometime in 2019.

READ MORE: Doug Ford promised to shrink Toronto city council — why premiers can do that

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Ford’s announcement to significantly shave down Toronto’s council comes about three months before municipal election day — Monday, October 22.

Watson said he was “really surprised” when news broke Thursday night that the premier intended to table legislation seeking to overhaul Toronto’s wards. He argued he doesn’t think the timing of the move is “fair to anyone” campaigning in a municipal election – nor the city staff who are now facing a time crunch to put together new ward maps. 

I think it’s going to cause a lot of confusion and frustration,” Watson told reporters.

Ford argued the reduction in council seats would save the City of Toronto $25.5 million over four years and help city hall run more efficiently.

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