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Toronto Toronto mayoral by-election cost could rise to as much as $15-million

Toronto City Councillor and Budget Chair Mike Del Grande spoke during a scrum outside Toronto City Hall Committee Room 1, where city budget hearings are taking place in Toronto on January 09, 2012.

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Democracy comes at a cost, says the city's budget chair Mike Del Grande, warning that the bill for a potential by-election to replace the mayor could climb to as much as $15-million.

That estimate is about double the figure being quoted by most councillors at city hall, but Mr. Del Grande, known for keeping a careful eye on the city's purse, points out the lower number does not include rebates for campaign costs to mayoral candidates and the possibility of a second by-election to fill the ward seat left vacant if a councillor runs and wins a race for mayor.

City Clerk Ulli Watkiss, who presented her office's budget to the committee Thursday morning suggested Mr. Del Grande's estimates might be "a bit high."

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She also pointed out that any talk of a by-election for mayor or for a council seat is still hypothetical. Mayor Rob Ford is fighting to keep his job after a ruling in a conflict-of-interest case turfed him from office. On Wednesday, a judge ruled he could remain mayor during his appeal, scheduled to be heard in early January. If the mayor loses that appeal, council has the choice of appointing a replacement or going to the polls.

The mayor and many of his supporters on council have said they favour a by-election.

"There isn't a price you can put on democracy," said the mayor's brother Councillor Doug Ford earlier this week. "We've said we believe in democracy. The people elect our leaders. Judges do not elect our leaders. We are going to bring it to the people if this appeal does not go through."

Mr. Del Grande said the $15-million price tag for a vote could translate into a .65 percentage point tax increase for homeowners on top of what has been proposed. City staff are recommending a 1.95 per cent rise in residential taxes, but Mr. Del Grande mused that would have to rise to 2.6 per cent to cover by-election costs. The other alternative, he said, would be to cut in other areas.

"There is no magic here," he said. "I just want people to understand. It is fine to go commenting all over the place about doing this or that, but there is a real budget implication here. "

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