Ford government barrels ahead with a midnight sitting in the legislature to make Toronto council smaller; Keesmaat wants Tory’s texts; What opinion writers had to say this week; Panel: Goldsbie, Elliott, and Park

11:08 a.m. Sept. 15, 2018. City clerk Ulli Watkiss stands and answers questions at a special council meeting this past Thursday.
11:08 a.m. Sept. 15, 2018. City clerk Ulli Watkiss stands and answers questions at a special council meeting this past Thursday.

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Weekend Newsbrief: September 16, 2018

What happened at Toronto City Hall this week

Ford government barrels ahead with a midnight sitting in the legislature to make Toronto council smaller. Oh, what a week for Toronto city council. The Ford government continues to push to reduce the size of council from 47 wards and politicians to 25, despite a Superior Court decision on Monday that ruled the Ford government’s law to be unconstitutional for a number of reasons including the fact that the municipal election was already under way.  In response, the Ford government moved a new bill that allows the government to override the judge’s decision using a part the Charter that allows them to enact a law (the bill to cut council) “notwithstanding” what the judge determined as the violation of the fundamental freedom of expression. Fast forward to the weekend and two special meetings of the legislature were called at Queen’s Park, one on Saturday and another scheduled just after midnight on Sunday night. Meanwhile at Toronto council’s special meeting on Thursday, city clerk Ulli Watkiss told council she was seeking independent legal advice, saying the city’s elections department has “hit a tipping point and both [the 25 and 47 ward] scenarios are becoming virtually impossible for us to carry out.” However, Mayor John Tory (who is currently leading in the polls against mayoral challenger Jennifer Keesmaat) told CP24 on Saturday he hopes the election will still go forward on Oct. 22. “The city clerk has a difficult job… if you’re uncertain about what it is you’re preparing the ballots for and hiring the people to do, then it creates a lot of uncertainty. So I will say, on the one hand I’m sympathetic to her but on the other hand I have huge confidence in her – she and her team are magnificent, and so I just hope they can get this election held on time, because that’s what I think people want, that’s what candidates want… and then move forward to deal with the real issues that people care about everyday.” At the August special council meeting, Councillor Josh Matlow brought a motion that “City Council direct the City Solicitor, in consultation with the City Clerk, to seek a postponement of Toronto’s municipal election should it be deemed necessary to carry out [the application to challenge the legality of Bill 5]”.

Keesmaat wants Tory’s texts. On Tuesday, Jennifer Keesmaat held a press conference at Nathan Phillips Square and followed something Premier Doug Ford said on Monday when he announced his government would use the notwithstanding clause to override the decision to keep Toronto council at 47 wards. “We want a government that’s going to be more efficient and make decisions, and we haven’t seen any decision over the last four years with this mayor. He talks a good game, says one thing behind closed doors, and then says something totally different in front of the cameras. That’s concerning.” The next day, Keesmaat held a press conference asking if Tory had discussed the size of council and the powers of the mayor with either Ford or the former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Patrick Brown. “It’s time for John Tory to clear the air and open the files on this one. Will he release any and all text messages, emails, notebooks, direct messages, phone logs, and other forms of communication between himself, or the mayor’s staff and Premier Ford, Patrick Brown, or their staff in the last year?” In response to questions from reporters to Tory on Monday about whether he’d had any private meetings with Ford, Tory said he had not, calling it “rhetoric.”     

Election update 25 vs. 47 wards: If the Ford government is able to push through their desire to cut Toronto council then the nominations will reopen for two days after the legislation passes. This is good news for a number of incumbents who had not registered yet (you can read who had and had not registered, as of last Sept. 7, in last week’s newsbrief). At the time of publication, the 47 ward is still in effect. You can read all the names of who is running on a spreadsheet downloadable on the city’s website.

In other news… what opinion writers had to say this week about Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause and the Toronto election

On deck this week.  Starting Monday, visitors to City Hall with have their bags inspected at the east and west sides of the main floor rotunda and at the Hagerman Street entrance of the building. Access to the library, the property tax, utility payment counters, and the Service Canada Centre will not be affected. On Tuesday, a hearing is scheduled for the Ford government to ask the court to put the Superior Court decision on hold so they can bring forward a new bill, which is essentially the same as the old bill, and will result in cutting the size of council. If the decision is stayed, and the bill passes (expected on Thursday), the nomination period of the 25-ward structure will reopen for two days.

10:03 a.m., Sept. 11, 2018. Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat speaking to reporters on Tuesday, calling on Mayor John Tory and his staff to make all their communications with Premier Ford’s office public.
10:03 a.m., Sept. 11, 2018. Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat speaking to reporters on Tuesday, calling on Mayor John Tory and his staff to make all their communications with Premier Ford’s office public.

Feature:  Signal Toronto Online Debate Panel

Think of it like a traditional television panel, but instead of panelists meeting in a studio, they congregate online (in a google document) to hash out topics relevant to the news of the week in real-time.

This week’s topics:

– What if councillors all resigned at once? Appointed councillor Lucy Troisi tabled this idea at council this week
– Council’s opposition to the Ford government cutting council; an idea for the city to have its own charter; motions from councillors who will need to face off in the 25-ward election.
– How is Toronto council dysfunctional?

This week’s panelists are:
Matt Elliott, Neville Park, and Jonathan Goldsbie (host of Wag the Doug)

This week’s moderator is:
Arianne Robinson

This live online debate was held Sept. 14, 2018 at 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. EST.

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This Newbrief is by Arianne Robinson. You can follow her on Twitter @ariannerobinson