On the eve of Doug Holyday's swearing-in as a Progressive Conservative MPP, Mayor Rob Ford held a community consultation to ask residents how they want to replace the outgoing councillor.
City council will hold a special meeting next week to declare Mr. Holyday's Etobicoke-Centre seat vacant and decide whether to hold a by-election or appoint someone to represent the ward until the general election in October, 2014. Mayor Ford has said he would prefer a by-election, but wanted to hear what the residents had to say before defending the idea to council.
About 150 residents filed in to a west-end high school auditorium on Wednesday night and listened as the Mayor explained the process for a by-election and an appointment.
"I am neutral at this meeting," Mr. Ford told the audience. "My personal opinion is that I wanted a by-election, but I'm not here to represent my views."
A by-election could be held as early as Nov. 25, which would give the new councillor just under a year to serve before the election on Oct. 27, 2014. But with a hefty price tag – the city clerk estimates a by-election would cost $225,000 – and the relatively short time until the next election, some councillors want an appointment.
Since amalgamation, the city has appointed councillors only if the seat was declared vacant with less than a year until the next election. When there was a year or more until the next election – as is the case with Mr. Holyday's seat – council has always called a by-election.
This precedent, combined with the feedback he heard on Wednesday night and conversations with constituents in the riding, strengthened the Mayor's resolve that a by-election is the only fair option.
"I've heard loud and clear from the people in Ward 3: They want a by-election overwhelmingly," Mr. Ford said, encouraging residents to contact all councillors and share their views.
The mayor also passed out ballots to take a straw poll of preferences at the end of the meeting.
Residents at the meeting represented both views, although a slight majority of those who spoke were in favour of a by-election. Some asked if the seat could be left vacant until next fall and covered by the other Etobicoke councillors. Mr. Ford said the city clerk told him that it is not possible.
A by-election could ensure the seat goes to a candidate with similar views to the mayor, something his brother, councillor Doug Ford, expressed concern about on their radio show. But when asked by attendees if there was a hand-picked candidate, both the mayor and Councillor Ford said that was not the case.
Councillor Ford said that while the audience gave mixed responses, he still firmly supports a by-election, even with the hefty cost.
"There's no doubt I want to save $200,000. I would be willing to do the job [of overseeing Ward 3] too," he said. "But they have to pick their own person."
Former vice-president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party Dean French attended the meeting. He has announced he would run in a by-election and felt the strong majority of those in the room want one.
"But having said that, it's beyond my control. It's now up to the council," he said.
Mayor Ford provided residents at the meeting with a list of 17 councillors who support a by-election. The list included John Parker and Paul Ainslie. The mayor said his task now is to get enough councillors on his side before Monday.
"I'm going to talk to as many councillors as I can to explain the meeting," he said. "Hopefully, they'll do the right thing and do what the Ward 3 people want."