Toronto’s new smaller city council has voted to double each councillor’s office-staff budget, a move many local politicians argue is needed to serve wards made twice as large when Ontario Premier Doug Ford cut their number almost in half this past summer.
The Premier had pledged that his move to slash council to 25 wards from 47 would save $25-million over four years – a figure doubted from the start by city officials. Council’s decision on Wednesday, supported by Mayor John Tory, appeared to all but wipe out the proposed savings.
Councillors argued they needed more staff to deal with everything from complaints about potholes to massive high-rise developments, in wards that are now the same size as federal and provincial ridings and average 110,000 residents.
“Council was cut down to 25, but you know, the city of Toronto was not cut in half,” said newly elected councillor Brad Bradford, who won a tight race in Ward 19 (Beaches-East York) with an endorsement from Mr. Tory in the Oct. 22 vote.
Debates about office budgets – a perennial source of conflict at city hall – usually pit mostly left-leaning councillors from busy downtown wards where high-rise development is booming against councillors from mostly residential suburbs, who face fewer demands. Etobicoke Councillor Stephen Holyday moved a motion calling for a smaller increase to councillors’ budgets, but it was defeated.
Despite taking nearly three hours of debate, the amounts involved barely register on the city’s $11-billion operating budget. The move gives each of Toronto’s 25 councillors a budget of up to $482,000 a year to spend on staff, up from the current $238,000 a year, which was meant to allow for at least three staffers. (Office budgets, for things such as the pamphlets councillors mail to residents, will also rise.)
The move will cost slightly more than the city spent this year on 44 councillors’ offices. But it will run about $8-million more a year than the city would have spent if it had instead left the new 25 councillors with the same smaller office budgets granted to their 44 predecessors. (A 47-ward structure, set up for the 2018 vote, was quashed by the Premier’s move.)
City council also approved a set of temporary moves to streamline its committee structure and handle appointments to its many boards and agencies with a smaller council. A special committee of councillors was also named to tackle permanent reforms. Council also approved Mr. Tory’s striking committee, made up of key allies – Frances Nunziata, Gary Crawford, Jaye Robinson and Stephen Holyday – which will largely decide which councillors sit on which committees.
Councillor Mike Layton, Ward 11 (University-Rosedale) rose to complain that no one from the city’s centre – an area dominated by left-leaning councillors and New Democrats – had had been named to the powerful striking committee: “In starting the new term of council, I think there was a hope that there might be more inclusivity in many of the decisions that are being made by the city.”