Toronto Council Seats: What to know | Citizens' Press

by Graham H. Cox last modified 2018-08-14T11:58:04-04:00
In the middle of the municipal election campaign, the new conservative government in Ontario run by Doug Ford (the one-time failed councillor from Toronto) has announced massive changes to the number of councillors in Toronto and the structure of representation in the city.

What has happened

  • Ford and his Progressive Conservative government has announced legislation to eliminate 22 council seats in Toronto.
  • It will reduce the number of councillors from 47 to 25.

What you need to know

  • Toronto has had 44 council seats since 2000.
  • A recent review recommended increasing the number to 47 to equalize the number of residents in each ward.
  • Municipalities are legal constructs under provincial legislation.
  • Toronto has its own legislation setting governance structures.
  • In the Canadian constitution, provinces were given the authority to legislate for municipalities. Provinces have downloaded services and responsibilities (e.g., public health) to municipalities. However, many municipalities pre-date the Constitution.

More details for clarity

  • Ontario’s municipal elections are underway, and have been since March, as determined by provincial legislation.
  • The last day for nominations for council seats and mayor positions was Friday afternoon. Ford has proposed to extend the nominations for councillors, but not for the mayor of Toronto.
  • The right-wing have used gerrymandering (re-drawing election maps for political advantage) all through history.
  • An independent review of the election boundaries and representation in Toronto was just conducted and concluded Toronto need more, not fewer, councillors for proper representation.
  • Municipalities are simply people organizing themselves where they live to make decisions and the provision of services. They would exist whether they were legislated or not as they are organs for local democratic decision making.
  • It is “fewer”, not “less”, councillors.

Ford’s fake facts

Ford and his allies have made the following statements. Here is what those are and why they are false.

1. Toronto is dysfunctional and/or cannot make hard choices because there are too many seats.

  • Those who take the right wing position on council votes have always said Toronto Council is dysfunctional – because it takes three days to hold a meeting each month and debate dozens of items each time.
  • While municipal councillors have political leanings and loyalties, parties do not operate in municipal governments in Ontario.
  • The "dysfunction" that Ford is referring to is the constant debates, amendments, and jockeying where councillors form opportunistic allies for single council votes. The compromise, political "horse trading", and open debate that are necessary when there are no established parties (with whipped votes) is called democracy not dysfunction.
  • Reports have shown that Toronto needs more democracy to fix this issue, not less. More democracy means more councillors so that the full views of Toronto residents are realized.

2. It will save $25million.

  • The figure $25million is the cost of wages and offices of councillors, staff, and support over 4 years. Or, about $3 per resident tax-payer per year.
  • The word "savings" suggest the same services will be provide for less money. However, front-line services will have to be made-up elsewhere through spending increases, or it will result in a cut in services.

3. Other cities Toronto's size have fewer councillors.

  • Almost every other city cited by the Ford provincial government has more, not fewer, locally elected representatives per population.
  • Many large cities around the world have municipal elected structures below that of municipal council (like boroughs) in an effort to increase local democracy.

4. It was announced or suggested before/during election.

  • The only suggestion of this change in the popular press was an article recommending the move in the Toronto Sun five days before the announcement.
  • Right-wing councillors (including Doug Ford) have a long history of complaining that there were too many (progressive) councillors on city council. However, this is hardly a policy announcement.

Why it matters

  1. The new map undermines marginalized voices by lumping marginalized communities with rich ones.
  2. Has been done in a specific way to reduce the number of progressive-aligned councillors.
  3. A reduction means less representation and thereby less democracy by definition.
  4. Councillors do not just debate motions at City Hall, they help provide services to their community and are a point of entry into the municipal system. A cut to councillors (and their staff) is a cut to front-line municipal services.
  5. This is the largest service cut in Toronto history.
  6. School board trustee elections are also affected.
    • Changes who will oversee school boards and the number of schools these trustees oversee.
  7. Candidates have been campaigning for months.
    • Campaigns are large commitments – mostly start voluntary or self financed.
    • The change has meant the odds of winning or being able to recoup money invested in campaigns is lowered, changing the calculus for running half-way through the race.
    • For candidates from working class and marginalized backgrounds, this can have significant financial implications.
    • Constituents are now confused who is running in their riding as candidates are going to have to figure out if they are still running, who they are running against, and what areas they are running in.
  8. Racial and gender representation will likely be undermined.

What are the solutions?

1. Utilize the move to target those councillors who are aligned with Ford and make sure they are not elected, so they do not benefit from this gerrymandering.

  • However, Bay Street firms and the interests of other large capital are in favour of reducing the voice of working people in the municipality. With fewer seats, the make-up of the new wards, the inevitable of progressive councillors running against one another, and few limitations on spending, working people are at even more of a disadvantage.

2. Candidates could file for an injunction to press pause on the Ontario government’s implementation of the legislation.

  • This would be based on timing and funds already spent.
  • However, it is not clear this would work as the power the province has over municipal democratic structures is vast.

3. Elect new provincial party in the next election that promises to increase democracy in the city.

4. Mobilize opposition at the MPP level to vote against the legislation.

  • However, there are not enough MPPs in the Toronto area to defeat the legislation, so MPP would have to have a reason to vote against this other than upset residents of Toronto. That would mean Ford's conservative MPPs would have to care about upholding the principle of democracy more than backing the actions of their tin-pot dictator.
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