Toronto residents have elected a new slate of council members under the new 25-ward system imposed by the Ontario government, but politicians are turning their attention to how governance at city hall will work with fewer representatives.
The city of Toronto was set to move to 47 wards from 44 after a lengthy ward boundary review. However, Premier Doug Ford announced at the end of July — hours before nominations under the 47-ward model were set to close — that his government would move to reduce the number of council seats to 25. Despite legal challenges, the 25-ward election proceeded after an Ontario appeal court stay of a lower court decision. The case is still before the courts.
Paul Ainslie, chair of the city of Toronto’s government management committee, was re-elected on Monday. He will be representing the new Ward 24 Scarborough–Guildwood. Like 20 other incumbent councillors, his workload is set to increase dramatically with most wards now having at least 100,000 residents.
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“My office has a standard that no matter how you contact my office, whether it’s a walk-in, a call or an email, my staff have to get back to you within 24 hours … to acknowledge your concern,” he told Global News.
“So doubling the size of my ward basically, my first reaction was I’m going to need more staff.”
Ainslie said shortly after the new term of office begins on Dec. 1, he wants to see council act quickly on governance-related issues.
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“I would really hope that the mayor would call a meeting the very next day so we can get down to business and decide about adjusting budgets for staff, how we’re going to lay out office space,” he said.
Ainslie noted a reduction in council will free up a considerable amount of office space on the second floor of city hall, which is predominately made up of elected officials. He said he could physically accommodate another staffer to join his three staff members, but said additional constituency assistants may need to be housed in his Scarborough Civic Centre office.
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“I don’t think we can leave half of the second floor empty,” he said when asked about what he would like to see with the vacant space, adding there might be an opportunity to relocate some staff to the opportunity to save money and create efficiency elsewhere.
When asked about potential recommendations on how to accommodate the 25-ward council, a city of Toronto spokesperson said it will be up to council to make those decisions and “assess the implications on memberships and appointments” in December.
Paula Fletcher, a 15-year councillor who was also re-elected, said officials are going to have to look at the staffing levels in council offices in order to “serve every constituent in the best way” and respond to issues.
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“Twenty-five seats were imposed on us by the provincial government. Residents didn’t vote for that,” she noted.
While reflecting on his 24-year tenure of public service, outgoing Coun. Norm Kelly said he wished the new council well but had a warning.
“The workload probably will double and they’ll need extra staff. They won’t be as close to their constituents as they are now. The challenges are many and they are critical,” he said.
Calls for more resident participation, committee changes
Brad Bradford, a newcomer to council representing Ward 19 Beaches-East York, said it’s going to be a challenge to represent more than 100,000 people. He said he spent a lot of time door knocking in the campaign and that his approach to community engagement won’t change.
Bradford said more local participation may be needed to fill a potential void.
“I think there’s going to be an expanded role for community councils, having residents more involved in the decision-making locally, more autonomy over budgets, parks and community programming — we’re going to have a conversation with the community going forward,” he said.
“There are dozens and dozens of community associations, residents’ associations, that are already bringing positive change and making sure they can continue the great work they are doing.”
Ainslie echoed the call for more citizen appointments and said the number of councillors assigned to different bodies may need to shrink due to scheduling availability.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to keep our agencies, boards and commissions with the same number of councillors,” he said.
Google map of Toronto’s 25 wards