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Is a smaller city council really more effective?

Last Updated Apr 16, 2019 at 5:11 pm EDT

It’s been almost exactly six months since a new, 25-member Toronto city council was elected.

Premier Doug Ford’s controversial decision to slash the number of councillors from 44 to just 25 was met with resistance from some, but it ultimately became the new reality.

Back in August, Ford boasted that cutting council was one of his more prudent moves as premier.

“I’ve been in politics a long time, no matter what I’ve done in municipal politics or provincial politics, I have never ever had a more positive feedback than what we did at the City of Toronto,” he said last summer from the annual conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

“We are excited about this law and what it will do, saving taxpayers $25-million and improving decision making across the city.”

But what has life on council been like since it was halved?

We posed that question to councillors and Mayor John Tory.

While council meetings have been shortened by about two hours, most councillors say their workload has grown substantially.

QUOTES:

“We’re totally flooded with phone calls. Our ward has doubled. We have over 100,000 constituents… generally speaking, customer service declines when you take away political representation.”

  • James Pasternak

 

“I have 20 Business Improvement Areas, and about 20 well-established Residents Associations that meet on a regular basis. And you know, they’ve got an agenda. And they expect either the councillor or a representative of his or hers to be there at the meeting, and to be able to answer some of the questions being posed. And unfortunately, because we have two, three meetings on any given evening, sometimes it means we aren’t able to send the right staff person that can answer those questions. And we struggle with that, we do our best.”

  • Mike Layton

 

“It’s a different kind of job. You now have double the constituents. For example I have double the Business Improvement Areas I had, I have 14 of them plus Residents Associations. Plus, the development meetings. So it’s a lot busier locally. We rely a lot more on our staff, on our teams to get involved in our communities … For us, we have to adapt to that, not being able to go to a meeting. I still resent that. And I think it’s a matter of adapting – it’s like a new job.”

  • Ana Bailao

 

“The number of case files I’m getting is increasing. That’s just because the population has increased to such a large degree. The intake’s gotten larger. I haven’t seen anything like this in quite some time.”

  • Denzil Minnan-Wong

 

“It’s just a dream. I mean, we do things faster… There’s less opportunity for people to get up and shoot their mouths off. A lot of people used to do that and at the end of the day we voted the same way… But it’s busier, there’s councillors that they say ‘well I had my Friday afternoons off.’ There’s no such thing as ‘off’ anymore.”

  • Jim Karygiannis

 

“We’re getting a lot done – we’re getting a lot more done this term than we did in the past.”

  • Frances Nunziata

 

“We come to a consensus quicker on stuff and I think members of the media, members of the public, have seen that in action.”

  • Michael Ford

 

“At the cost of saving a few hours at a council meeting, versus all the hard work that’s supposed to be done the rest of the month – I don’t think it was worth it. I think people want to have access to their councillors. But I also know that the best councillors want to have access to their communities in a way that they’re there to work with them.”

  • Josh Matlow

 

“In the mayor’s office, because of the fact that the councillor’s are harder pressed, we’re getting more calls here from people who are seeing if we can help them in the mayor’s office, even though I’m representing the same number of people as I did before… I think it’s still too early to judge if this was the right thing to do. If the objective was shorter meetings – which I don’t know if anybody thought that was the biggest issue on earth – then I guess it’s made some improvement in that regard. But in terms of the quality of democratic government at the local level, which people really value, I’m not sure. I think it sure was done the wrong way though and I hope it doesn’t end up standing as a precedent because it was a very, very bad precedent.”

  • John Tory