A Welcome Shock to the Body Politic

doug ford

Premier Doug Ford delivered an unexpected blow to the comfy, entitled members of Toronto City Council when he announced late last week that the province was planning to cut the Council virtually in half, from its current bloated complement of 47 councilors to 25.  There is no doubt that this surprising announcement could have been made somewhat less abruptly and with a more reasonable heads-up to the individuals affected, but it is also true that this move is probably the most exciting proposal we have seen in government in quite some time.  Considering that any change in government tends to take a ridiculously long time to accomplish, perhaps the sudden nature of this announcement was necessary  to ensure that change happens at all.

Despite the fact that Toronto Mayor John Tory reacted very negatively to this announcement at first, it is worth noting that prior to entering municipal politics he has been repeatedly on the record supporting a smaller Toronto Council.  Ford has also mentioned that he will be looking into enabling more powers for the Mayor of Toronto, and presumably other cities, along the lines of the so-called “strong mayor” systems operational in many US cities where mayors have many more powers than they do in Canada.  These powers are something that John Tory and other mayors have been requesting for some time in Canada and they would represent a major change in how municipalities are governed.

Ontario Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath reacted strongly and negatively as well, claiming that Ford’s “meddling” in municipal politics was unseemly and inappropriate.  This is indeed rich irony as, of all the political parties, the NDP has historically been by far the most likely to get embroiled in municipal affairs.

As the initial shock wore off, some Toronto councilors expressed support for the downsizing of council, while others vowed to oppose it in various ways.  Some councilors are threatening legal action, although most legal experts agree that the province is well within its rights to adjust the size of Toronto City Council and that any lawsuits fighting this proposal will fail. The city is currently discussing holding a referendum among citizens as to whether the reduction in Council should take place.  Such a referendum likely would have no legal standing if the province wanted to barrel ahead with the change, but it would throw an interesting political dimension into the mix if Torontonians ended up voted against reducing City Council.  Given the current and longstanding level of dysfunction at Toronto City Hall, the fact that other much larger cities seem to do just fine with many fewer councilors than Toronto, and the generally overtaxed status of the city’s population, it would be hard to imagine a referendum outcome that would not support a reduction in the size and cost of city government.

We have become all too accustomed to political pablum in Canada, where nothing much changes and government seems to endlessly expand at our expense while public services deteriorate.  This latest Ford announcement is a bold and interesting proposal that deserves serious consideration and support.  If taxpayers are lucky, it will be the start of a new trend toward more efficient, more accountable and more affordable government right across the country.

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