Toronto staff confident about election day plans after court decision imposing 25 wards

Toronto officials say city ready for municipal election
WATCH ABOVE: After all the confusion following the type of election the City of Toronto would run, the city clerk says staff are ready for a fair, democratic vote. Matthew Bingley reports.

City staff say they’re now ready for voting to begin two weeks after Ontario’s Court of Appeal granted the provincial government’s request to stay a lower court judge’s decision that set aside a law slashing the size of Toronto city council.

“I’m confident that we have taken all necessary steps to administer the 2018 election to meet the principles and requirements of the Municipal Elections Act,” City clerk Ulli Watkiss said during a news conference late Thursday morning at the municipal elections headquarters, noting the Toronto election is within the time frame of provincial and federal elections.

“It’s been rather exhausting. Remember it was two weeks ago on Sept. 19 that the [court] finally gave us certainty and we’re going ahead with 25 wards.

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“We had candidates be able to get out and finally know where they were running. We had voters who now have certainty with respect to where they were placed in wards … once the decision came down, we had the certainty we needed.”

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There will be 25 wards instead of 47 during the next term of council as a result of the stay being granted. The changes were set out in a law passed earlier this year by the Doug Ford government called Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act.

Watkiss said the court decision was vital in order to hold the election on Oct. 22. Staff had to ensure voting locations worked for both scenarios, print two sets of voter cards, and send out a generic information that could be usable regardless of the ward structure.

Voter information cards for the 25-ward election went in the mail ‘immediately’ after the court decision.

“Despite the uncertainty over the 25, or 47, or 25 or 47 wards in the last few months, I am now confident that we are going to be ready to go with the opening of advance voting next week,” she said.

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“I would say the Court of Appeal decision came just in time — just in time.”

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Deputy City Clerk Fiona Murray, who noted she hasn’t had a day off since July 30, said staff have been working shifts between eight and 14 hours a day in order to prepare for the 25-ward election. As a result, it has come with a sizeable election cost increase.

“We had estimated that the costs in order for us to move at that point from a 47 to 25 would be approximately $2.5 million,” she said, adding the final costs aren’t known yet.

“One of our costs did relate to overtime — overtime for both election staff and information technology and technology staff. We did have to consolidate some of our time frames with vendors, which did have a cost impact and of course printing two sets of voter identification cards.”

Watkiss said city staff have yet to speak with the provincial government about covering the increased cost as a result of the implementation of Bill 5.

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The City of Toronto typically holds nine advance voting days, but this year will see a shortened schedule of five days. Advance voting begins on Wednesday and happens between the hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

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City staff noted every voting location will be accessible and there’s a home voting pilot project to assist those who cannot get out to vote due to illness or disability. For information on this and proxy voting, residents were encouraged to check the Toronto elections website or call 416-338-1111.

Locations to vote on Election Day (Monday, Oct. 22) were uploaded to the City of Toronto’s MyVote website on Sept. 24. By typing in your address on that site, it will give you a personalized list of candidates, a ward map, voting locations and an ability to check if you’re on the voters’ list.

MAP: The City of Toronto’s 25 new wards

Voting hours on Oct. 22 are between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Meanwhile, Watkiss called the 2018 election “very special” and that “it will certainly be the one to remember out of all of them.”

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“I’ve been city clerk for a very long time and every election has its own feel to it, and every election has little twists and turns,” she said while encouraging all of Toronto’s more than 1.8 million eligible voters to cast a ballot.

“This one was certainly more interesting than most because we had that dreadful uncertainty for a long period of time.”