Skip to main content

The battle to prevent Ontario Premier Doug Ford from cutting the size of Toronto city council is probably lost. It was probably lost the moment that Mr. Ford announced the plan last month.

The provincial government has wide powers over Ontario municipalities, which are junior partners in the relationship. The law reducing the size of council by nearly half, to 25 members, has cleared the legislature. It is now the law of the land. City officials are redrawing their election plans on the assumption that the vote on Oct. 22 will happen over 25 wards, not 47.

Toronto should keep fighting all the same. Even if the chances of winning are slim, city council was right to vote on Monday to challenge the Ford decision in court.

Story continues below advertisement

An important principle is at stake. Toronto’s government may be constitutionally subservient to Queen’s Park, but it is hardly a non-entity. It governs the fourth-largest city in North America. It is bigger than the governments of many provinces. Allowing Mr. Ford to steamroll Toronto’s chief governing body in the way he did would set a bad precedent.

As Councillor John Filion put it, the province may have the legal authority to cut council’s size in half, “but it’s not right.” Toronto’s government should not succumb to bullying. “We should be standing up and fighting back.”

Hear, hear. Mr. Ford’s move against council was sudden, arbitrary and vengeful. He was getting council back for thwarting a similar attempt by his brother Rob when he was mayor. Mr. Ford gave no notice to Toronto. He did not allow for the study, hearings, public meetings and other forms of due process that usually come with such an important change in governance rules. He did not even put the idea on the table during his election run.

He changed the rules in the middle of the game. Toronto’s election was already well under way when Mr. Ford stepped in with his stomping boots. Some candidates had been knocking on doors for weeks. Many had rearranged their lives to run for office. Suddenly, everything was up in the air. The provincial move upended years of work – consultations, challenges, council debates – on reconfiguring the city’s electoral map to take account of population changes, increasing the number of wards to 47 from 44.

As many councillors put it during Monday’s debate, it was not so much the content of the change that was offensive. They would have been willing to discuss the idea of reducing the size of council for the next election in 2022. It was the way it was done. Rushing a bill through the legislature with no real debate just three months before the votes were to be counted was no way to treat Toronto and its elected representatives.

By challenging this law, Councillor Gord Perks said, Toronto has a chance to establish that “municipal governments are real things” and that “municipal voters have real rights.” If it doesn’t stand up for itself now, what more might the provincial government do?

Perhaps the courts will produce a surprise decision and uphold the city’s challenge. A judge might find that the way the law was rammed through was itself illegal. That is one of the reasons we have an independent judiciary, after all: to restrain governments that don’t play by the rules. Referring the matter to the courts, Mayor John Tory said, will allow for a “reasoned second look” at the decision to slash council.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Ford says that he wants a slimmer, more efficient government for Toronto. But the number of councillors – 25, 35, 45, 55 – doesn’t matter much. What Toronto really needs is a strong government that doesn’t need to run up the road to Queen’s Park all the time – like a little boy in short pants, as Mr. Tory famously put it. Toronto won’t get that if it takes this lying down.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter