Toronto Mayor John Tory has written a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford asking him to “hit the pause button” on cutting the number of city council seats from 47 to 25 and allow a referendum to be held before proceeding with the legislation.
“I have made my own position clear – it is unacceptable and unfair to change the rules in the middle of an election,” Tory said in the letter sent Thursday evening.
“The proposed legislation 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.”
The provincial government tabled legislation last month that would see the number of city council seats reduced by nearly half in the October municipal election.
“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,” Tory said.
VIDEO: Toronto Mayor John Tory, councillor have heated exchange during debate over cuts to council by Ford government
“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.”
Tory told reporters during a public appearance at the TTC’s Leslie Barns facility Friday morning that the lack of public consultation on the council reduction is troubling.
“The referendum idea, I can tell you, goes down very well with the people and it was just one mechanism that I knew existed that we could put forward for their consideration, that would be in some respects cleaner and I think better than a court action, which is never preferable,” he said.
“But now we’ll receive our legal advice with respect to the court action as well, and I think it still rests with the government to decide that they are going to postpone the implementation of this pending some public consultation which may give them better ideas.”
City councillors voted last week to formally oppose the legislation and to further ask the city solicitor to examine the constitutionality of the bill.
The Progressive Conservative government said the reduction in council seats would save the city $25.5 million over four years.
“For too long the dysfunction and political gridlock at City Hall has held Toronto back on issues like transit, infrastructure and housing,” Ford’s spokesperson Simon Jefferies said in a statement on Friday.
“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.”
The NDP said in a statement on Friday that it had successfully delayed Ford’s draconian bill by moving amendments to reinstate public hearings in order to give people “more time to join the fight against Doug Ford and his attempts to rip away their voices.”
“We will continue fighting like hell to allow people to have their say in what happens to their local representation,” said Gilles Bisson, NDP House Leader who introduced one of two amendments on Thursday.
“We will do whatever we can to stop Doug Ford from silencing the voices of the people in the middle of an election.”
The proposed legislative changes, which have been included in the Better Local Government Act, would also eliminate elected chair positions in the regions of Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka.
Progress Toronto, a pro-democracy advocacy group, has since launched a petition asking the public to “stop Ford’s takeover of Toronto politics.”
VIDEO: Toronto MP and former councillor Adam Vaughan rips Ford plan on reducing council seats
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