Social Planning Toronto issued the following response today to Premier Doug Ford's move to reduce Toronto City Council by half.
We urge you to contact your local Member of Provincial Parliament to express your disagreement with this hasty action against local decision-making, which will have a highly disruptive and confusing affect on this year's municipal election.
What Price Local Democracy?
Friday, July 27, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“It’s an abuse of provincial authority over cities for Premier Doug Ford to unilaterally and immediately legislate reduction of Toronto City Council by half,” says Peter Clutterbuck, Interim Executive Director of Social planning Toronto. “It’s an assault on our local democracy,” he continues, ”A fundamental change to our local elected representation announced and effected over a three day period just as the municipal election campaign begins in earnest amounts to hijacking local decision-making.”
The City has just completed a very thorough study and consultation over several years to conclude democratic representation would be improved by redrawing the electoral map with 47 wards. If there is to be any further discussion about the size of City Council, that debate should be carefully organized and thoughtfully conducted over a reasonable time to get the people’s input and not hastily during the election period. “The Premier makes a huge display of calling for wide parent consultation on the sex ed curriculum,” says Clutterbuck, “but gives not a thought to consulting Toronto voters about a major structural change to their election system.”
While the Premier makes the bold claim that a 25 person City Council will make decisions more efficiently and quickly, there are other important questions for debate about a size reduction. Local democracy is not just about what happens at City Hall, but also about access taxpayers have to their local Councillors as their ward populations would double from an average 60,000 residents to about 120,000. The people need to have a chance to say what they think about that.
This action is seriously disruptive to the current municipal election. Registered candidates in the 47 wards now need to revisit their decisions to run under new the circumstances, even though many may have quit their jobs and certainly most will have initiated spending in preparation for their run (renting office space, hiring staff, printing signs and voter materials, etc.).
The practicality of Elections Toronto adapting to 25 wards in its own planning for a fair and efficient election is also in question. Premier Ford claims his “estimates show” a $25 million saving with a Council reduction. Apart from the fact he offers no evidence of this claim, how much of that saving will be offset by the disruption to both Elections Toronto and candidates’ situations as indicated above?
Finally, Social Planning Toronto expresses grave concern about the disruptive effect of this change on the electorate. SPT works closely with local communities across the City, helping voters especially in low income, vulnerable and marginalized neighbourhoods to understand how the City and its ward-based electoral process works. The Premier’s action will just create confusion about who is running where and about even which ward they reside and can vote in. Such confusion risks decreasing voter participation in the election.
“This change undermines the democratic process in which so many have been engaged in preparing for the municipal election campaign,” concludes Clutterbuck, “Now instead of pressing candidates for their commitments to the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and critical issues like affordable child care, housing, transit and employment, uncertainty and confusion about wards and candidates will suck up all the oxygen in the room. Toronto’s voters deserve more consideration and respect than that.”
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Communications Officer, Social Planning Toronto
Interim Executive Director, Social Planning Toronto
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