Doug Ford has an axe to grind and the power to do it. Whether it’s legal, and whether it’s right are two different questions.
Ford was up until recently an outlier in Toronto civic politics, defeated in the last election for mayor after he replaced his brother in the campaign, late former mayor Rob Ford. Doug’s former rivals in the council thumbed their noses at him. Now that Ford is Ontario Premier he is in a position to make the lives of his political rivals quite difficult.
The first step was yesterday when Ford announced he would be cutting Toronto’s city council from 47 councillors to 25. He also announced the elimination of elections for Regional chairs in a number of areas including Peel – where former PCPO Leader Patrick Brown was planning to seek office. (Brown quickly popped up to announce he was running for mayor in Brampton – certainly a record for most contested elections in 6 months).
Let me start off with saying that having been a member of boards and committees, 47 is far too large to effectively conduct governance and decision-making. Generally speaking I would applaud the move to reduce such a bloated council.
The announcement was made with no consultation, the day nominations were slated to close (which has now arbitrarily been extended into September), and halfway through the campaign period, which is both unprecedented and unscrupulous. You don’t change the rules of the game halfway through the game.
Ford also indicated the ratio of citizens to councillors was out of balance. While that may be worth debating, and may be valid, a consistent standard across major cities would support his case. That Ottawa, a city of approximately 1 million will have 24 councillors while Toronto will have 25 leads one to believe that this is no more about good governance than it is about a vendetta against former colleagues and rivals.
Legal, political, and constitutional experts are near unanimous that Ford has the authority to conduct these changes, and much further reaching changes if he chooses. Cities and municipalities are granted status as “creatures of the provinces” under Canada’s Constitution, meaning ultimately the Ontario Provincial Government holds the keys to the Toronto’s kingdom.
What Ford can do, what he should do, and how he should go about doing it will be a matter of political debate for a good portion of this government’s term. At the least, we in the pundit and political class know we will have a lot to watch and comment on in the next couple of years.
Another important lesson: watch whose fingers you step on as you climb that ladder. You never know who’s going to wind up on a higher rung than you one day.