July 30, 2018
By Arianne Robinson
As the Doug Ford provincial government released a draft of amendments to the City of Toronto Act and Municipal Elections Act, Toronto city councillors held their last regular council meeting of this term, and possibly the last to have 44 councillors.
The proposed changes to the legislation will see Toronto council cut to 25 members instead of 47, and will align city wards with provincial electoral boundaries.
Council supported the mayor’s idea that Toronto residents should be given the chance to speak their minds on the issue through a binding referendum, or at least on the ballot for the 2018 election, before the legislation is passed. However, this outcome seemed unlikely on Monday, as Premier Doug Ford and Conservative Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark described how changes to the legislation would affect the 2018 election.
Council also supported a motion that allows for a special council meeting on Aug. 20, 2018 to consider the constitutionality of the election (special council meetings must be called by the mayor).
The City of Toronto election process is already well underway. The nomination period, when residents register to run for councillors, school board trustees and mayoral candidates, ended this past Friday at 2 p.m.
If the legislation passes at Queen’s Park, the City of Toronto election staff will need to reopen the nomination process for new candidates and registered candidates will need to write to the clerk about which new ward they wish to run in.
This is not the first time Toronto council ward boundaries have been redrawn in recent memory. Over the past few years, the city undertook a review to consult the public on various options for council. When it was at council in 2016, council voted to increase the number of councillors to 47, instead of keeping the number at 44 or reducing to 26.
The question of grounds for a constitutional legal challenge to the process of enacting the new legislation is a possibility, and will be discussed by council at a special council meeting in August (if it is called).
Councillors had a mix of reactions to the outcome of the meeting.
Stephen Holyday, one of the city councillors who took part in a news conference at Queen’s Park to show support for the change, was disappointed with the result. His motion that council express its support to the province for cutting council to 25 councillors and a mayor was deemed redundant after council voted 24 – 18 to convey its opposition to the government introducing legislation to reduce the size of council.
“Well, it’s not the decisions that I supported. I think that we should move on with business. We realize that the province is moving to change the legislation, and we should be, as a council, thinking about how to equip our staff and our clerk’s staff with all the resources that they need to make sure that we have a successful election in the fall,” Holyday said.
“This has been quite the long and heated debate, and tense at times. I suppose that’s been a natural reaction. Councillors – their world has been turned upside down. I think many people are worried about saving their jobs. I don’t think that should be the discussion. I think the focus should be on doing the right thing for this city.”
Joe Cressy, the councillor who moved the motion that did pass, spoke to reporters after the meeting about what’s next. “[How council voted] was a clear signal today by the city of Toronto that this fly-by-night attack on our residents, on our local democracy and on this institution … It is a fight that is worth having and a fight that I think our nearly three million residents deserve.”
Paula Fletcher, author of a successful motion that requests the city solicitor look at the constitutionality of the legislation, was also fired up after the council meeting.
“Hundreds and hundreds of people have signed up into an election based on our laws, actually provincial laws. He’s changed the provincial law in the middle of an election,” Fletcher told reporters after the meeting.
“Some people aren’t happy about that. Some people like 25 councillors, others like 47, but nobody’s happy about the way he’s acted.”
A statement from Mayor John Tory’s office followed the vote on Monday, reading, “I will also continue to urge the province to reconsider the process around this change to our civic democracy and to find a way to ensure we consult the people.”