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NEWS: Hundreds protest cuts to council (Aug./Sept. 2018)

September 11th, 2018 · No Comments

Defending downtown democracy

Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) speaks at an emergency public meeting at Scadding Court Community Centre on August 13. ELLIE HAYDEN/GLEANER NEWS

By Ellie Hayden

“Shame!”

Hundreds of people huddled shoulder to shoulder shouted the rallying cry at an emergency public meeting on August 13 at the Scadding Court Community Centre.

The event was organized by Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) and Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) to protest Bill 5, The Better Local Government Act. Passed in the provincial legislature on August 14, the act cuts Toronto City Council almost in half, reducing it from 47 seats to 25.

“The larger wards are, the harder it is for local councillors to work with neighbourhoods, to work with frontline harm reduction agencies, to work with residents and businesses to manage our communities together,” said Cressy, whose ward — one of the largest in the city — is home to about 100,000 residents. “If there is one fundamental reason why we need to ensure why local democracy matters, it’s to ensure livable neighbourhoods in the city.”

Ausma Malik, who is the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee for Ward 10 and had announced her intention to run for council during the summer, said the reduction compresses downtown schools — where the density of schools and students is already among the highest in the province — into three wards. She explained that the board had to make difficult restructuring decisions over a matter of days or the premier would have done as he sees fit.

It’s not the only municipal organization that’s feeling the pressure.

Adam Vaughan (MP, Spadina-Fort York), who is the parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of families, children and social development, warned that the act threatens “reasonable government in Toronto”, as it strives to “[take] away the boards that run local community centres like this and [put] it all inside City Hall.”

Layton talked about the effect the act will have on neighbourhoods, focusing on Business Improvement Areas. Councillors are ex-officio (which means they have a vote but do not count towards a quorum) members of the BIA boards, and work closely with BIAs to improve communities and make sure that local voices are heard.

There are 12 BIAs in Layton’s ward, and each meets about once a month. He pointed out that it will be very difficult to sustain the necessary level of community engagement in a bigger ward.

Many at the meeting wondered if the act was legal, whether there was still enough time to hold a free and fair election, and what recourse the City of Toronto had in the courts.

“Are we going to let them run over us like this or are we going to go out kicking and screaming and perhaps in the process give our allies a little more time,” said activist and writer Desmond Cole, advocating for immediate action.

Craig Scott, a professor with the Osgoode Hall Law School and former MP for Toronto-Danforth, spoke at length about the legality of the act. While the city cannot simply say no to the legislation, or postpone the election, it can say with some validity that it can’t change the rules with such short notice.

“I’m hoping that the city is going to come bursting out the gates with a vigorous and strong argument that will prevent Bill 5 from going through,” said Scott, of the chance that the city will take the province to court.

He also warned that what he called “this abuse of arbitrary power” would not stop here.

Vaughan agreed, saying “this fight is about so much more than the hijinks at Queen’s Park and this egregious move by the provincial government that will literally wipe out local democracy. This is a fight for our city.

“If they can do this on the back of an envelope in 15 minutes, imagine what they can do in one term,” the MP and former councillor for Trinity-Spadina added. “The city is going to have to process and navigate very complex issues. As the provincial government damages the city of Toronto, I want to promise you the federal government will be there to step back in and support Torontonians building strong cities. That’s the support we can provide.”

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