Special governance committee to help mend slashed Toronto council, advocate hopes to “expand local democracy”

2:41 p.m. Dec 4, 2018. The first city council meeting of the 2018 - 2022 term. The number of members (and their chairs in chambers) were reduced from 45 to 26, following provincial legislation.
2:41 p.m. Dec 4, 2018. The first city council meeting of the 2018 - 2022 term. The number of members (and their chairs in chambers) were reduced from 45 to 26, following provincial legislation.

Dec 13, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

A new special governance committee was established at city hall on Thursday, with the aim to make sure the new committee structures will work at Toronto’s slashed council. The committee will be chaired by Councillor Stephen Holyday, appointed by Mayor John Tory’s office on Wednesday.

“With the changes that were brought about to city council before the last election, it’s been an exciting process,” Holyday told Signal Toronto.  “Right throughout the election until now, there’s been a lot of uncertainty about how things work. There’s a lot of questions from people, and I think the governance committee, part of its role is to bring some certainty to that and to make sure that the design that we selected as a council at our last council meeting is the right fit… I think time will tell if we got it right, and part of the role, I think, of this committee will be looking at that specifically.”

Unlike Holyday, Michal Hay, founding board member and executive director of Progress Toronto, wants to see the committee go through an engagement process that brings the public in on the process of setting up how the government should work.

“When we saw the special committee on governance, we were excited about the opportunity to actually expand local democracy despite what [Premier Doug] Ford did. That’s how we see it,” Hay said, also explaining Progress Toronto is happy it’s an interim structure. “So we could have this longer conversation about what we need to do to make sure that we have a fulsome democracy as a city.”

“The public obviously didn’t have an opportunity to have any say in what was happening to council through either the cuts to council, the slashing of the number of councillors, the changes to the ward structure, there were no committees held provincially, there were no opportunities for public input. There was just opportunity for public backlash,” Hay said in an interview with Signal Toronto.

Hay said she wants to see the process start in January and be accessible to residents across the city so they can define what they need in terms of access to their local elected representatives in order to have their voices heard.

“People from across the city should participate in the development of a more accessible, inclusive democracy at the city… it could happen in different forms, but it would mean holding many meetings or forums, community meetings across the city, and not just having meetings and committee meetings downtown. They’re actually going into communities and hearing from people.”

Hay says it’s important the committee hears from academics and other experts on other systems that work around the world.

The committee meets at the discretion of the chair until it delivers recommendations to council. Reached by phone, Holyday said he is seeking the city clerk’s direction on how to proceed.

“I’m going to be taking [the clerk’s] advice on how we get started and we unfold this,” Holyday said. “It’s a little bit different because it’s a special group and a special task as opposed to one of the standing committees where the mandate is clear and the process is clear and we’re on new territory here.”

Signal Toronto asked a spokesperson for the City Clerk’s Office if there are any suggested work plans for this committee, and when the public can expect to attend the first meeting.

“The Special Committee on Governance has not yet been formed and so it does not yet have a work plan,” the spokesperson said through email.

Council passed the striking committee’s recommendations for the other members of the committee to be Gord Perks, Shelley Carroll, Ana Bailão, and Gary Crawford.