Bill 5, Better Local Government Act, 2018

Dear Neighbours,

To look on the bright side of the province’s ill-timed decision to reduce the number of Toronto councillors to 25, we have yet another reminder that we should not take our democratic institutions for granted. In a country such as ours, where these are seldom threatened, we need to remember what we value about our political system: consultation, open discussion, and rational decision-making for the clear benefit of the public.

Much has been said about how difficult it will be for councillors to stay in touch with so many residents in oversized constituencies that are projected to grow even larger. In areas with a head-spinning amount of development and construction, your councillor's input on planning and committee of adjustment applications is crucial, and about to be stretched.

And now the number of councillors available to sit on committees and boards has been chopped, meaning less time to uncover issues that are being hidden from the public. For example, If I’d been on even more boards, would I have had the time to do the legwork that led to exposing and stopping the Toronto Parking Authority’s attempt to purchase a property for $2.6 million more than it was worth? If there is reduced time to scrutinize such transactions, how will that save taxpayers money? And what becomes of that essential part of our democracy – the role of elected officials to ensure accountability over public institutions?

I’m bothered by what these “megawards” will do to our local elections. Call me an idealist, but I believe that municipal politics should reflect the public interest, both local and city-wide. Grassroots campaigns should lead to the election of candidates with genuine ties to their community and a commitment to a collective forward-thinking vision for its future.

But in massive wards, in which it will take large sums of money and political connections to mount an effective campaign, the grassroots will be crowded out. I fear an election dominated by candidates representing private financial interests. As well, federal/provincial political parties will be salivating at boundaries that match their own, and their growing involvement in this vote would lead to the election of councillors whose decisions will be influenced by a political hierarchy instead of the community.

That thought makes me sad, and the sadness turns to anger at how a decision with such far-reaching consequences can be made on a whim, in the middle of an existing election campaign.

Yes, the Province has the legal authority to reduce the number of councillors; but should it be allowed to do so in such an arbitrary manner, based on the very dubious assertions that it will save money, or that giving local politicians an impossibly heavy workload will somehow improve their decision-making?

This decision has little to do with any of that. Toronto rejected Doug Ford as mayor and the left-leaning downtown didn’t vote for him as premier either. And remember all those councillors who took away his brother’s powers as mayor? Time for a little payback – and great spectator sport also. I really don’t think there’s much more behind this decision than that.

The Province has control over a city’s electoral process, even a city larger than most provinces. But are there limitations on that? What if the Premier wanted to reduce the number of councillors in Toronto to five? What if he wanted those five to be appointed by him? Clearly, that would not be acceptable.

So what are the limitations? We may find out as early as next week when the legislation reducing Council seats to 25 receives final approval and a series of court challenges begin.

Timing and process aside, I’m guessing the only restrictions on whether this goes ahead will be whatever limitations the government imposes on itself. Doug Ford is not the personality type to back down from a fight, but what about the MPPs we just elected? Are they just passengers on the Premier’s wild and bumpy ride?

Our new local MPP, Stan Cho, seemed like a reasonable and thoughtful person during the election campaign. Did he hear from you before voicing his position on this issue? Have you contacted him? You may do so if you wish, here.

Many of you may support the proposal to reduce the number of councillors, and I can respect your right to that opinion. But I don’t understand how anyone can support the way this decision is being made.

Best wishes,

Councillor John Filion Toronto City Councillor Ward 23 – Willowdale