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Ford to cut size of Toronto city council; mixed response from councillors

Last Updated Jul 27, 2018 at 6:48 pm EST

Premier Doug Ford confirmed Friday he plans to cut the number of seats on Toronto city council by almost half its current size to 25 from 47.

At a news conference on Friday, Ford said his government is introducing legislation but did not say when it would be tabled at Queen’s Park.

This latest move by Ford comes as Toronto is gearing up for the Oct. 22 municipal election. Friday is the last day that candidates can register to run.

The move would re-draw ward boundaries to match federal and provincial ridings.

“I promised to reduce the size and cost of government … this is something I fought for at City Hall,” Ford said. “More politicians [are] not the answer.”

Ford said the change to council size will happen in time for the municipal election.

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, who was at the premier’s news conference, said the move could save taxpayers as much as $25 million.

Clark said if the legislation is passed, the nomination period for candidates and school board trustees in Toronto would be extended to September 14.

Ahead of Ford’s announcement, Mayor John Tory said this process of altering the size of council should be put to the people, which is why he plans to move a motion to instruct city clerks to hold a referendum.

When the premier was asked about whether he would support a referendum, Ford didn’t say one way or another.

“We were pretty clear on the election, when I talked to thousands and thousands of people. The referendum was pretty clear, our mandate was pretty clear to reduce the size and cost of government, putting money back into the people’s pocket, and get things done.”

Ford is also planning to cancel elections for regional chair positions in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka, adding that the last thing people need is “another layer of politicians.”

“We all share the same boss, we all work for the people,” Ford said.

On Thursday, several councillors said they were not happy with the proposed change.

“This is unprecedented, anti-democratic and reckless,” Coun. Josh Matlow said on Facebook. “Premier Ford would be cancelling local elections after they’ve already started, ignoring elected council decisions, candidates have already received donations & are knocking at doors. Chaos is never good for a healthy democracy.”

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said the move would only concentrate power further.

“Amalgamation in 1996 disenfranchised the legacy cities and residents by centralizing power,” she said on Twitter. “Any further erosion will destroy our democracy.”

Coun. John Campbell said slashing council would reduce oversight of municipal boards and commissions. “If you reduce councillors to 25, all of a sudden you lose that connection with the electorate and in the end the public is the loser, and they’re going to feel it right away,” he said.

However, some councillors expressed support for Ford’s plan.

“The only thing we do upstairs in that chamber is everybody gets up and just wants to talk. When you have 25 people there’s more cohesion, you’ll move faster on things. That’s why I’m supportive of this,” Coun. Jim Karygiannis said. He also thanked Ford on Twitter (below).

Longtime councillor David Shiner also supported the premier, saying citizens would benefit from a pared down council.

“I think that the average person just wants to be heard by their elected representative and they want to see the business of the city move forward. They don’t want to see us talk forever on these items and council meetings have gotten longer and longer and longer. Less councillors will definitely bring efficiencies to the city.”

The overhaul to council goes against a review from 2016 that found increasing the number of wards to 47 from 44 is essential for effective representation.

Ontario Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath called the move “chilling” and accused him of having “cooked up a backroom plot.”

“It appears that Doug Ford cooked up a backroom plot to use his new power to meddle in municipal elections. He didn’t campaign on it. He didn’t consult people on it,’ she said in a statement released Thursday night.

With files from The Canadian Press