Gary Crawford’s exit triggers calls to change Toronto council severance pay policy

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Calls to end Toronto councillor severance pay
WATCH: Gary Crawford’s decision to resign on the eve of the provincial byelection he’s running in is raising questions over the $120,000 he is due in severance pay. Crawford isn’t the first to get a payout and there are calls to change the practice. Matthew Bingley reports – Jul 26, 2023

Calls to change Toronto’s policy of awarding severance pay to city councillors are growing, following a more than $120,000 payout to the city’s former budget chief who resigned on the eve of a provincial byelection that he’s running in.

Gary Crawford submitted his resignation to the city clerk on Monday, which becomes effective at the end of the day Wednesday. On Thursday, Crawford, who is running for the Progressive Conservatives, is hoping to be elected in the Scarborough-Guildwood’s byelection.

The timing may seem innocuous for someone with aspirations to achieve a higher level of government, but many are noting the timing of the resignation assures Crawford qualifies for severance pay, and doesn’t match his own record or recent words promoting fiscal prudence.

The Scarborough-Guildwood byelection is Thursday, July 27. Matthew Bingley/Global News

Crawford served as former Mayor John Tory’s budget chief for years and until recently, had been urging the city to come to terms with its own fiscal reality. At his final Executive Council meeting earlier this July, Crawford issued a warning to Mayor Olivia Chow.

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“If we don’t look at our fiscal responsibility and our challenges very seriously over the next six months, I think there’s going to be some difficult challenges that the city faces,” he said. Crawford wished the new mayor luck and urged her to look at the priorities of the city to get it back on track fiscally.

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Under Toronto’s municipal code, members of council who are successfully elected federally or provincially, without resigning from council, are not eligible for severance pay. Since Crawford resigned before a potential byelection win, he’s eligible to collect severance on his $128,346 salary.

“Severance is supposed to be if you’re fired. Coun. Crawford has not been fired, he’s chosen to resign,” said Jay Goldberg of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He called Crawford’s decision around when to resign, “hypocritical” given his understanding of the city’s financial reality.

Goldberg also said the city needs to change the policies surrounding severance pay. “Whether you resign three days before the election or the day after the election, you should not be getting a taxpayer handout,” he said.

“It’s very clear that politicians know how to game the system,” Goldberg added. “There’s a pattern of doing this, so absolutely Mayor Chow should look at herself changing these rules.”

Crawford’s office and his campaign team didn’t respond to multiple interview requests. Instead, the Progressive Conservative campaign team emailed a statement from Crawford, which didn’t address any questions regarding his severance payout.

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But Chow doesn’t appear willing to lead the charge on changing the rules, telling Global News she believes all workers deserve severance pay. “As to the timing and what he did, that’s really up to Coun. Gary Crawford,” Chow said.

The Ontario NDP was much more willing to throw stones — and grazed one of their own in doing so. Earlier in the week, the party issued a press release accusing Crawford of “cashing in” with his resignation. But the same press release made no mention of NDP caucus member Kristyn Wong-Tam, who received $114,477 when they resigned from City Council in May 2022 ahead of the provincial election.

When asked by Global News what the difference was between Crawford and Wong-Tam’s collection of municipal severance pay, a senior NDP spokesperson would only say that “Crawford’s secret resignation on the night before the byelection speaks for itself.”

Coun. Shelley Carroll also took severance pay when she resigned from her city council seat ahead of an unsuccessful provincial run with the Ontario Liberal Party.

Carroll pocketed $114,307 in pay before running and winning a council seat back in the next municipal election. But under the municipal code, were Carroll to resign again, she wouldn’t be eligible for more pay as she was already paid the maximum severance amount under the code.

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