Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/7/2018 (468 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Toronto is in an uproar these days because Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government has decreed a sharp reduction in the size of the city council. Winnipeg accomplished the same reform more gradually and more carefully with no lasting ill-effects.
In both cities, consideration of council shrinkage followed 20 years after amalgamation of the central city with its nearest suburbs and its metropolitan corporation.
Winnipeg absorbed its suburbs almost a half-century ago, on Jan. 1, 1972, when the 50-member founding council of Unicity took over the powers of the former municipalities and the Metropolitan Corporation. A huge council was politically useful to provide places for most of the big shots of the former municipalities. Over the years, after studies and hearings and reviews, the council size was whittled down to 29 in 1977, when Unicity was just five years old, and then to 15 in 1992, 20 years after amalgamation. There was grumbling at each stage, but the results were accepted.
Toronto came late to the amalgamation party, merging the central city with East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, York and the metropolitan corporation in 1998 to form what was dubbed Megacity. Opposition from community leaders was furious, but the 44-member council provided positions for most of them. When North York Mayor Mel Lastman, a loud opponent of amalgamation, was elected as the first mayor of Megacity, the fury abated.
A ward boundary review two years ago added three members, expanding the Toronto council to 47 seats, which were scheduled to be filled at civic elections Oct. 22.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, however, announced last week that his new PC government will reduce the number of council seats to 25 in order to reduce council cost and make the city more efficient. Toronto, he reasoned, elects 25 members of Parliament and 25 members of the provincial legislature, hence 25 is the right size for the council.
Like Winnipeg’s shrinkage to 15 councillors, the Toronto shrinkage comes 20 years after amalgamation. Unlike Winnipeg’s move, it seems to emerge as a sudden impulse of Mr. Ford, with no basis in research or public debate. Since Mr. Ford served briefly on the council when his brother, the late mayor Rob Ford, was being mocked and tormented on account of his cocaine use and underworld connections, the council shrinkage seems like an act of vengeance.
Even with this abrupt and poorly-prepared decision, he is likely to get away with it administratively and politically.
Mr. Ford could have reached the same goal by another path. He could have announced a review of Toronto city government after 20 years’ experience with Megacity. After a year or two of research and debate, he could change the size of council without seeming so arbitrary or so vindictive.
Even with this abrupt and poorly-prepared decision, he is likely to get away with it administratively and politically. Toronto Mayor John Tory’s talk of going to court to block the move seems like a long shot because, any way you slice it, the Ontario legislature has the undoubted power to shape Toronto’s city government. By the time Ontario votes again, the chief complainers against this council shrinkage will be sitting pretty in their new offices at Toronto city hall, loving every minute of it.
Premier Ford loves to cast himself as the advocate for political outsiders, railing against the downtown Toronto elite. That’s a difficult pretense to maintain when you are premier of Ontario, but this fight lets him keep up the appearance.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.