Toronto’s Mayor and most councillors are expected to ratchet up their fight against Doug Ford on Monday as the Premier formally tables legislation that would slash council nearly in half and upend the fall election.
The city’s opposition strategy is expected to take shape early this week, when councillors vote on Mayor John Tory’s call for a referendum about the size of city council.
Councillors will also be asked where they stand on two motions from downtown Councillor Joe Cressy, who is calling on his colleagues to formally object to Mr. Ford’s plan, while at the same time directing the City’s lawyer to initiate legal action to stop it.
“We have a fundamental responsibility as the City to fight this action with everything we’ve got,” Mr. Cressy said on Sunday.
Mr. Tory intends to back both of Mr. Cressy’s motions, a spokesman said Sunday.
But political and legal experts warned that Toronto’s resistance could be futile: Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party has majority control of a provincial legislature that has virtually unfettered power over municipalities.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy to stop it on legal grounds,” said Roger Keil, a research chair in global sub/urban studies at York University. “I think it’s going to have to be stopped politically in terms of trying to get the [provincial] government to recant.”
Mr. Tory, who defeated Mr. Ford in the 2014 mayoral race, is demanding that the Premier leave this fall’s election as is, then allow Torontonians to weigh in on the shape of council through a referendum.
His motion asks the province to conduct a binding referendum on the number and boundaries of the wards in Toronto, or, failing that, change the rules to allow the city itself to put that question on the Oct. 22 ballot.
“Why don’t we ask the public? They’re usually pretty smart about these things,” Mr. Tory told reporters after a Saturday morning announcement about bus service.
Mr. Ford, who served as a Toronto city councillor under his brother, the late Rob Ford, stunned his former colleagues when he announced on Friday that his government would reduce the number of ward seats on Toronto council to 25 from 47 in time for the fall election, while leaving the councils of other cities untouched.
Toronto currently has 44 wards, but council voted last year to redraw the electoral map after a lengthy review that considered and rejected aligning the city’s ward boundaries with those of the provincial and federal maps – the solution Mr. Ford now intends to impose.
Dismissing Toronto’s council as a “comedy show,” Mr. Ford said his legislation, called the Better Local Government Act, would streamline decision-making and save $25.5-million over four years, although it’s unclear how he reached that figure.
The Premier’s announcement landed like a grenade on what was supposed to be the last day to register for a municipal campaign that was already in full swing, with hundreds of candidates raising money, knocking on doors and making their cases to voters.
The province said it would extend the deadline for council candidates to register to Sept. 14.
It closed entry to the Toronto mayoral contest as planned on Friday, just after the city’s former chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, launched a last-minute bid to take on Mr. Tory.
The provincial legislation to be tabled Monday would also cancel the direct elections of regional chairs in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka.
That move foiled, temporarily, the ambitions of Mr. Ford’s predecessor as PC leader, Patrick Brown, who had registered to run for chair of Peel Region, west of Toronto.
Mr. Brown, who resigned as party leader in January after two women accused him of sexual impropriety, signed up to run for mayor of Brampton before the deadline Friday. (He has denied the sexual-misconduct allegations.)
Frances Nunziata, a long-serving councillor who is among a group of 11 colleagues supporting Mr. Ford’s bid to cut council, said she would back Mr. Tory’s call for a referendum.
“I’ve always been in support of [reducing the size of council],” Ms. Nunziata said. “What I’m not in support of is the timing of it.”
Ms. Nunziata said she hoped that the Premier would consider postponing the changes until the 2022 election, or at least delay this fall’s election.
But Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said he doubts blowback from city council would persuade the Premier to change his tune.
“The people outside of Toronto don’t give a damn about this,” he said.