NAME a municipal council in this country, in a medium or large city, that is not occasionally accused of being dysfunctional and unwieldy, or incapable of “getting things done,” and we’ll show you a politician who is devoid of ego.
Some would argue that municipal government is the most meaningful to taxpayers, since so many issues — road maintenance, garbage collection, water rates — have a direct impact.
The governance of municipalities does not always run like a well-oiled business, and some people find fault, but some would argue that is was never intended to. Things that matter occasionally need to be hashed out with the inclusion of many opposing views, a sometimes messy process that is not taken for granted in non-democratic countries. True enough, this process sometimes means that big projects, like transit, and even hockey arenas, get delayed.
That prospect is apparently untenable for Premier Doug Ford, a former Toronto city councillor who thinks that council should be chopped in half to align with provincial and federal ridings. Ford claims the move will save the city $25 million.
Ford’s time on council was notable for his attack against that city’s former police chief, and for prompting an investigation by Toronto’s integrity commissioner. The commissioner ruled against Ford, saying he used his influence as a councillor to support two companies that were clients of the Ford family business. To many, the ruling suggested that Ford, whose background is in business, fundamentally didn’t understand how democracy is supposed to work. Namely, it does cost money to ensure proper representation at city hall.
In 2014, Ford ran to be Toronto’s mayor. To his chagrin, he lost to John Tory who was once rather chummy with the Ford family. One could be forgiven, therefore, for thinking that when it comes to the City of Toronto in general, and Tory in particular, Ford has a pretty big axe to grind — a guy looking to get even.
As premier, Ford is wielding a big axe in the form of the Better Local Government Act which, unless Toronto can mount an effective legal challenge, will indeed shrink the number of Toronto councillors to 25 from 47, just in time for the Oct. 22 municipal election. To Ford and his supporters, this will lead to getting things done.
Ford did not mention this plan during the provincial election; understandably, the measure came as a shock to most at Toronto city hall. Among other legal arguments, government lawyers say Ford can kick the city around like a football because of the province’s legislative “supremacy.” Now there’s a chilling word. The city has no “legal remedy,” the government says, leaving the impression that Tory and others opposed to the reduction plan might as well just throw in the towel right now.
In its defence, the city accused the province of “meddling with democracy.” This is putting it mildly. Though it has become tiresome, Ford continues to say he is “for the people”; but in this case, the people are being run over by a linebacker.
If the legislation stands, it will be a dangerous precedent that will send chills down the spines of every council in the province.