As hundreds of protesters attended Toronto city hall to rally over the Ontario government’s proposed legislation to cut the size of city council, it led to a fiery exchange Friday evening between John Tory and Mike Layton whether the mayor had advance notice about the announcement.
Premier Doug Ford announced Friday morning that legislation would soon be tabled to reduce Toronto city council to 25 wards from 47 in the October municipal election.
“If passed, (the legislation) would dramatically improve the decision-making process,” Ford said.
“For too long, the people of Toronto have watched city council go around, and around, and around in circles and failed to act on the critical issues facing the city.”
WATCH: Councillors get heated at Toronto City Hall after proposed cuts announced
News of the announcement leaked out Thursday evening. It prompted Tory to schedule a news conference for 8:15 a.m. on Friday — 45 minutes before Ford was set to speak.
Tory said Ford briefly mentioned cutting the number of Toronto council positions during a private meeting in Ford’s office a couple of weeks ago, adding several topics were raised.
“It wasn’t put on the basis that he was planning to do it … he’s talked about it before,” Tory told reporters.
“I actually sort of dismissed it on the basis of saying, ‘Well that’s not something that could be done.’ We’re in the middle of the election campaign and the matter dropped at that stage because I didn’t have the sense that he was pursuing it either.”
Councillor Mike Layton questioned on Twitter Friday afternoon why Tory didn’t say something on the proposed legislation sooner.
“How could Mayor John Tory not help the City prepare for the bombshell today?” he wrote.
“He admits he knew and did nothing to prepare. Instead allowed city to descend into chaos.”
During a speech at council Friday evening, Layton called the proposed plan “an attempt to hijack local democracy” and that it was “disgraceful.”
“It shows absolutely zero respect for Toronto, for our residents and for our democracy itself,” he said.
“Think about it, on the last day of nominations, they announce this change. After months of candidates out trying to win votes, they announce this change.”
As he concluded his comments, Layton said he wants to address something that was “bothering” him all day.
“Who knew about this in advance? Because it has been suggested that somebody knew about this in advance and didn’t bring it to our attention … the problem is we were not given an opportunity,” he said.
“If we hadn’t scheduled a meeting today, we would have no ability to debate this.”
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti called on Layton to withdraw his comments, saying Layton was “impugning motive.”
Tory subsequently rose to address Layton’s comments.
“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,” Tory said.
“It gave me no indication whatsoever of any intention to do anything. I called it a musing, but I was honest about it and I think you should be ashamed of yourself when you get up in this chamber, you demean this place… you demean this place, you demean me. But more importantly, you demean yourself when you get up and call my integrity into question.”
Graphic: Toronto City Council Comparison
Layton can be heard asking Tory to “bring it to this chamber” in order to have a debate.
“If I brought every rumour to this chamber that came from musings of people up there or anywhere else, we’d be here having meetings all the time. There was no intention given whatsoever and you’ve been doing it actively on Twitter all day,” Tory said.
Layton could be heard speaking off-camera as Tory called on him to apologize.
“I think you stand in your place and apologize to me and to this chamber for getting up and in that… way where you’re just kind of implying it but not saying it,” Tory said.
“Get up if you have the balls to do it and say it.”
The exchange came after a lengthy question-and-answer period with city staff and debate among members of council.
Council speaker Frances Nunziata cut off Layton as he attempted to respond. City council recessed its proceedings until Monday morning.
Residents held a rally at Nathan Phillips Square during the meeting and many moved inside as a part of their meeting to protest the provincial government’s actions.
“Shame, shame, shame,” residents chanted in the council chamber
— With files from Suzette Francis and Ryan Rocca