Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has called a special city council meeting in August to decide how to fill the seat of his departing deputy mayor with his eye on pushing for a by-election, but he can’t count on support from right-of-centre councillors.
First, he’ll need to get enough councillors – 23 – back from summer vacations to make quorum for the meeting to proceed.
City council must choose to either hold a by-election or appoint someone to represent the Etobicoke ward after Doug Holyday was recently elected MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
The mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, have expressed a preference for a by-election – and their concern that an appointment would drop a left-wing councillor into the suburban neighbourhood they call home. However, support on council is not divided along the political spectrum, according to an informal survey taken by The Globe and Mail. Some right-wing and centrist councillors, including Mr. Holyday himself, prefer an appointment to fill the seat until the general municipal election in October, 2014.
Though the mayor said he still prefers a by-election, he was more flexible on the idea when he spoke to reporters on Friday.
Mr. Ford said he’s open to the idea of an appointment if that’s what the constituents of Ward 3 prefer. He has planned a public consultation next Wednesday where he plans to hear first-hand whether those in Etobicoke-Centre want a by-election or would be satisfied with an appointment.
“It doesn’t matter what we think or what other people may want. It’s what the people in Ward 3 want,” he said at a news conference for a mural project in Etobicoke.
“If the people want an appointment, I’m here to represent their views not mine.”
He also said the city could hold a by-election as early as Nov. 25, just under a year until the general election. He wasn’t sure which way council will vote, but he was certain council will be there to make a decision.
“I’ve given them more than two weeks’ notice so I’m pretty sure we’ll have quorum. It’s their job. You have to be on call.”
While most of the support for a by-election is coming from Mayor Ford’s inner circle, right-leaning and centrist councillors, such as Karen Stintz, Mike Del Grande and James Pasternak, have said an appointment is the best choice.
“The public is in no mood to spend $150,000 on a by-election when we’re only 150 days away from the opening of nominations for a general election,” Mr. Pasternak said.
The meeting will be held on Aug. 26, pulling many councillors away from their vacations early to get back to work. Mr. Holyday will leave his council chair empty when he is sworn into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on Aug. 22 as a Tory MPP, which makes the Aug. 26 the earliest possible date to get the ball rolling on filling the seat.
While a by-election has the benefit of allowing the constituents to choose their own representation on council, it could cost the city as much as $225,000 and take months to complete. With the general municipal election looming, the new councillor would be elected with less than a year to serve.
However, an appointment, while cheaper, could also be a lengthy process and would hand over the ward to an unelected representative who may choose to run in the general election in the fall, giving them an advantage over other candidates.
The mayor first announced his intentions to call a special meeting on the Sunday afternoon radio show he co-hosts with his brother, Doug. Filling the deputy mayor’s seat was to be discussed at the next council meeting scheduled for Oct. 8, but the mayor is anxious to start the process. Many councillors scheduled time off during August when the city hall calendar was empty.
“We have to get the people in place as soon as possible, be it appointment or a by-election,” the mayor said, though he added his preference is for a by-election. “I feel very uncomfortable choosing one person.”
On the show, the mayor’s brother expressed concern that an appointment would result in a left-leaning councillor filling the seat.
“They’re going to try to give it to them by giving some staunch, downtown lefty that they’re going to parachute in and try to out-vote us.”
Incoming deputy mayor Norm Kelly has expressed a preference for a by-election, as have councillors Mary Fragedakis and Peter Milczyn, although Mr. Milczyn said if a by-election takes too long, it might not be the right choice.
“I need to understand the timeframes under the Municipal Elections Act to determine the viability of a by-election,” he said.
Councillor Cesar Palacio was himself appointed to council temporarily in 2000 on the condition he not run in the following election – though he ran in a later election and won. He also expressed concerns over the timing.
“If we can’t get a by-election until January, it only makes sense to appoint someone, as long as that person is going to be accountable,” Mr. Palacio said.
The Globe’s informal survey found the Fords, Ms. Fragedakis, and Mr. Kelly in favour of a by-election, with Mr. Milczyn leaning that way; councillors Stintz, Holyday, Pasternak, Jaye Robinson, Joe Mihevc, Del Grande and Palacio in favour of an appointment, with Sarah Doucette leaning that way; and councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong, Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam undecided.