Premier announces he’s cutting council in half, mayor calls for a referendum

8:28 a.m. July 27, 2018. Mayor Tory addresses media in advance of Premier Doug Ford’s announcement to change the number of wards and politicians at Toronto council.
8:28 a.m. July 27, 2018. Mayor Tory addresses media in advance of Premier Doug Ford’s announcement to change the number of wards and politicians at Toronto council.

July 27, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

The Toronto political status quo is set to change. Big time.

Premier Doug Ford made the stunning announcement on Friday morning he is cutting the number of Toronto councillors almost in half, from 47 to 25, in a move that will change the face of Toronto politics – and could change the upcoming election in Toronto.

“It is time to reduce the size and cost of municipal governments starting right here in Ontario. We will be introducing legislation that, if passed, will dramatically improve the decision-making process at Toronto City Hall…

“Now more than ever, the city of Toronto needs to get some big things done. So we’re going to streamline Toronto city council. We’re going to align Toronto with federal and provincial boundaries,” Ford said at a news conference.

In response to the news, Mayor John Tory announced his plan for a referendum, during the October election, for changes to take place at the next election (which, as it stands, would take place in 2022).

Earlier on Friday at the mayor’s news conference, Tory said he wanted to see the decision about the number of Toronto councillors made by the people of Toronto.

“We would live with the result, whatever it is, but at least the people – it will be the people, all of them who choose to vote, who will decide,” Tory said to reporters.

“The city I want to lead is one where elected representatives, the mayor in particular, listens to the people. That is the very foundation of our civic system and of our democracy. It’s true, the province does have broad powers to do as it chooses when it comes to the City of Toronto … but this is a city that is booming … because of the people that call Toronto home … the people should decide.”

Friday was the last day for candidates to register their nomination to run for council. Under the new legislation proposed by Ford, the nomination for councillor candidates would be extended, but not for mayor.

Former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat entered the mayoral race just before the 2 p.m. deadline.

“I believe that we need strong leadership in a strong city council in order to continue to deliver,” Keesmaat told reporters after she registered. “In changing times, we need changing leadership. My commitment to this city is to work incredibly hard, to be incredibly collaborative and to not be afraid to make the hard choices and decisions when bold leadership is, in fact, required,” Keesmaat said, not taking questions from reporters.

Hours before, members of council stood with Justin Di Ciano (an Etobicoke councillor not registered to run in the election) who explained why the group was in support of the move by Ford.

“At the end of the day, an independent process provided 25 federal riding boundaries in Toronto, and those boundaries worked for Prime Minister Trudeau, those boundaries worked for [former] premier Wynne, those boundaries worked in a fair and independent way for Premier Ford, and there’s no reason why those boundaries, those exact same boundaries, can’t work in a fair and equal way for Torontonians here at Toronto City Hall,” Di Ciano said.

Longtime councillor David Shiner also spoke in support of the idea. “It’s the time now to allow those wards to open up, to have real contests in the wards … where no one can take over an existing ward because they’re all going to be challenged for it. … And the fact that our premier, [who] decided to move quickly and make the decision on that, I think is absolutely right and I am 110 percent supportive of it.”

Former city councillor Adam Vaughan was at City Hall in the morning and slammed the idea.

“This is without a doubt one of the most reckless and destructive decisions I’ve ever seen befall the city of Toronto.”

Asked what he thought about the mayor’s idea for a referendum, Vaughan said, “It’s smoke and mirrors. The more you make this about process, the less you make this about impact … you’ve got a guns and gangs problem, you’ve got refugee challenges, you’ve got transit that’s not being built and housing that’s not being fixed or built or accommodated for. So what do you do? You have a debate about how many politicians are the right number to fix the problem.

“Who’s fixing the bloody problem?” Vaughan asked. “That’s the issue that Torontonians want answered. They don’t care about how many politicians it takes to make it happen – they want it fixed.”