Another Sad Day for Local Democracy

On a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the Ford Government's reduction in the size of City Council in the middle of the 2018 election campaign was constitutional.

Before the start of that campaign, Council had voted to have 47 wards, wanting to maintain areas small enough for councillors to maintain close contact with their constituents while overseeing Canada's largest city. The Ontario Government changed that to 25 councillors, with areas matching the federal and provincial riding boundaries.

It's a decision that still stings for many, including me. I had already announced my departure from politics and was looking forward to some new projects. But I felt obligated to change that decision when it looked like a candidate with developer support would take advantage of the situation and enter the fray. There didn't seem to be enough time for the community candidate I was supporting to retool for an election in an area double the size. That candidate agreed and dropped out, after having spent months on the campaign trail.

The decision seems to affirm that one set of elected Provincial politicians have total control over a group of local ones elected by the same people. But, legalities aside, how has it worked out?

Council meetings are certainly shorter and more collegial. The Mayor's leadership style this term, avoiding major conflict as much as possible as we focus on the pandemic, has also helped with that. So we'll need to wait and see if that continues.

I suppose a more civil civic government is good for the public. But what's not so good is the extent to which each councillor is stretched, to the point where it becomes difficult to do the job in a way that's important to most of us: working with residents to create a more livable community while paying equal attention to city-wide issues and keeping the bureaucracy accountable.

Neither half of that job description is easy. Doing both parts as well as you always had with smaller wards is next to impossible.

Perhaps it's different if you're operating in a political party system, as the federal and provincial politicians in the same area do. I'm not saying their jobs are easier but their accountability is very different, and local government requires a lot more local contact.

I fear that, over time, much will be lost. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to get involved in their local government. More than legal battles over the size of wards, that's probably the best way to preserve it.

- John