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NEWS: Election chaos (October 2018)

October 16th, 2018 · No Comments

Council cuts a concern

By Ellie Hayden

Local residents’ associations, business improvement areas, and community organizations are concerned that reducing Toronto City Council from 47 to 25 seats will wreak havoc with the business of the city in their neighbourhoods.

“Clearly Ford is going to put his foot down wherever he feels like putting his foot down,” said David Harrison, chair of the Annex Residents’ Association (ARA), of the premier’s threat to use the notwithstanding clause.

The notwithstanding clause refers to Section 33 of the Canadian Constitution, which allows governments to pass laws that may contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, after a judge rules a law unconstitutional.

The provincial government introduced legislation that invoked the notwithstanding clause after the Superior Court of Justice ruled that reducing city council in the midst of an election breached the charter’s freedom of expression clause.

Harrison recently sent a letter to all Members of Provincial Parliament urging them to exercise their free vote to “truly represent the people of Ontario” and to “vote NOT to use the notwithstanding clause”.

“I think there’s shock, I think there’s dismay, and I think there’s astonishment,” said Sue Dexter, who sits on the board of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA), of the cuts to council. “The astonishment is that there have been no breaks on a premier who said he wants to rule the roost. But if he’s going to do that, this isn’t the way to do it.”

The issue became moot after the Ontario Court of Appeal stayed the lower court’s ruling, essentially setting it aside pending appeal, and allowing the province’s cut to go ahead.

Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) will now be running in the new Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York, which is south of the Annex, and Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) will be running for councillor in new Ward 11, University-Rosedale.

Brian Burchell, chair of the Bloor Annex and Mirvish Village BIAs (who also publishes this newspaper), characterizes city councillors as the squeaky wheels of municipal government who often kick-start action that’s been delayed by city bureaucracy.

He’s worried that councillors under the 25-ward system will “have too many constituents to serve, on average 110,000 each, and they will have to cherry-pick the files that get their attention.”

“The presumption is that…each councillor will have to have a much larger staff to accommodate the needs of the ward,” said Harrison. “All of a sudden we have to train new people. It’s going to be a lot of work.”

For Sue Dexter more staff isn’t always an effective solution.

“Staff can field some things really well, but if it’s a complicated matter you need the councillor,” she said. “If it’s the councillor who produces legislation, then what you want to do is have a clear line of communication with the councillor.”

That said, an increase in staff seems inevitable if councillors are to continue to serve their constituents effectively. But that means more money, which will eat into the $25 million that will be saved (according to Ford) by reducing council.

“If you’re adding ward assistants, say two ward assistants equal one councillor in terms of income, so in the end, your savings aren’t even there,” said Dexter.

Burchell agreed, saying “councillors will have to hire more staff and the cost to change the 25-ward system is in the millions.”

While the city’s own estimates suggest that cutting council will save approximately $2 per Toronto resident, “the real cost in losing an advocate for your concerns is much more,” he argued.

Still Burchell, Dexter, and Harrison remain hopeful.

“In a way, BIAs are like mini-municipalities, born of necessity, that have taken root and made Toronto as a whole a so much more livable place,” said Burchell.

For her part, Dexter said that “the [provincial] government has done something that is ill considered, but we have to be smarter than that.”

In the same vein, speaking on behalf of the ARA, Harrison said, “It becomes very important for residents to get involved. I think more will devolve to us in a funny way.”

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