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John Tory, Doug Ford exchange terse open letters ahead of special Toronto city council meeting

Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have engaged in a public war of words days ahead of Monday’s special meeting of Toronto city council, called to discuss legal options to fight the province’s plan to cut council nearly in half.

The two previously disagreed publicly after Mr. Tory sent a letter to Queen’s Park on Aug. 9 urging the Premier not to cut Toronto city council from 47 seats to 25. Their back-and-forth picked up again ahead of this weekend, when Mr. Ford called on Mr. Tory to put funding for gun violence on the special meeting’s agenda.

The Premier has pledged $25-million over four years to combat the issue, and in an open letter asked Mr. Tory to raise the issue at Monday’s meeting, and to match the funding.

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“I strongly believe that this issue requires rapid and decisive action from the City of Toronto and the federal government,” Mr. Ford wrote.

Mr. Tory agreed to match the funding, but wrote in his own open letter on Friday that rules dictate only one topic can be addressed at the special council meeting he called for on Monday.

The Premier responded with another letter on Saturday, saying it was “disappointing” that Mr. Tory wouldn’t bring up the issue before council.

“The fact that the special meeting you have called will focus on saving the jobs of politicians, instead of addressing options to deliver more resources to the fight against guns and gangs is telling,” he said.

Mr. Tory told reporters on Sunday morning that he and the Premier had a “positive” conversation on Saturday and are working together on gun violence solutions.

“I just think what people really want to see from us – they don’t want to see letters, they don’t want to see speeches, they don’t want to see meetings – they want to see action,” he said.

Mr. Ford’s office declined to comment, saying the letters speak for themselves.

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Mr. Ford’s decision in late July to slash council and cancel regional board chair elections threw multiple Ontario elections into disarray as soon as it was announced. Candidates who had already begun door-knocking struggled to determine how to move forward. Toronto chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat entered the Toronto mayoral race partially because of the decision, she said.

While some councillors, mostly suburban or Ford-allied, supported the Premier’s plan, many were incensed. Long-time councillor Joe Mihevc likened the move to “throwing a stick of dynamite at council and saying: Figure it out.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam called it “an affront to our democracy.”

Monday’s meeting will hear a report from the city’s legal team on options for a legal challenge of the province’s move, and council will decide whether to move forward – although as the Toronto Star reported, the battle looks to be challenging. What few legal arguments can be made rely on unwritten constitutional principles or arguments which have little preceding case law, according to a city report.

Toronto lawyer and Rocco Achampong, who is running for council in Toronto’s Ward 13, filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court to stop the law from taking effect before the 2018 election.

The court will hear Mr. Achampong’s arguments on Friday, Aug. 31. If the city decides to mount a challenge as well, its arguments will be heard on the same date.

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