Council on the cortex
The legislature was tethered to one issue Monday: Slashing Toronto city council. A raucous, rancorous Question Period ensued.
Word dropped last Thursday that Premier Doug Ford aimed to shrink the size of council to 25 wards from a planned 47 in the Oct. 22 election. On the first day of the house since that announcement, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath once again busted out the "dictator" line and called the move an "abuse of power."
"Doug Ford cooked up his backroom plot to steal power from the people, and kept it hidden from 14 million Ontarians for an entire election campaign," she said, alluding to the fact that Ford never mentioned cutting the size of council. "Taking revenge on political opponents does not show strength – it is a deeply chilling sign of weakness and insecurity," she added, one that "demonstrates utter contempt for the people of Ontario."
Ford invoked his four years as a city councillor for an Etobicoke ward. "Unlike the leader of the Opposition, I fought for the people of this great city for years to reduce the size and cost of government," Ford said. "When I talked to the thousands of people in the city of Toronto, not one single person came up to me and said, 'Doug, I want more politicians.' They want less politicians."
Horwath drove home the point that Ford conducted no formal consultations with Ontarians on deflating the council, which will ratchet up the number of constituents to an average of 120,000 per councillor.
"There was no consultation and no fair process. That means that, today, there’s absolutely no legitimate mandate for this premier to cancel regional elections and rip up Toronto’s wards," Horwath said.
Ford responded by suggesting the ward chop would yield more efficient governance at a city hall wracked by "gridlock."
"I talked to thousands of people in Toronto, and every single person I spoke to in Toronto said that city hall is dysfunctional. It’s not getting transit," he said. "Housing’s backlogged by a billion dollars. Infrastructure is crumbling right underneath our feet."
Fewer councillors would save Toronto $25 million over four years, he said, an average of nearly $6.3 million per year – about 0.05 per cent of the 2018 municipal budget.
Pulp, paper and police
Horwath asked Ford why "this premier (is) trying to control Toronto city hall from the premier’s office?" Ford gave a surprising retort. "I can assure you that when we have 25 councillors, it’s going to be 500,000 less sheets of paper. I’m protecting the environment. I’m protecting trees," he said. "There’s going to be less bureaucracy. It’s going to make the mayor’s job easier."
Asked by the NDP leader why he is "acting like a dictator," Ford asked rhetorically of Ontarians: "Do they want more police or do they want 800 less police than when I was there to protect the streets? Do they want more transit or do they want less transit? Do they want higher taxes or lower taxes?"
The ex-premier pipes up
Former premier Kathleen Wynne didn't hold back on Ford's 11th-hour move, calling it "vindictive," "perplexing, last-minute" and "highly undemocratic." She also warned that such an "erratic" decision would shake confidence among investors looking for stability in a province with a new leader.
Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, meanwhile, questioned the heavy emphasis on more consultations to justify rolling back the sex-ed curriculum while avoiding consultations on the council shrink-down. "Will the premier commit to consultations in this instance for the city of Toronto?" she asked.
Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark stressed "respecting taxpayers' dollars," among other commitments. "We’ve committed, as I said earlier today, to work with the clerk on those transitional issues for candidates. We’ve also reached out to Ontario’s chief electoral officer to try to help the municipality deal with the most important aspect of the newest possible voters list," Clark said.
Liberal lawmaker Michael Coteau hassled Clark repeatedly on the logic behind matching Toronto wards with provincial and federal riding boundaries. "Steve, why don’t you cut your city council in half?" he asked. "Why only Toronto? Because it’s vindictive. Settling grudges," he continued, answering his own question. "It’s ridiculous."
Lisa MacLeod heckled Hunter on the Liberals' poor showing in the election to stress the PCs' strong mandate. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven," she said, referring to the number of Liberal MPPs reelected on June 7. "Seven people," she said.
"The premier is acting like a dictator," declared NDP MPP Gurratan Singh, brother of former provincial New Democrat deputy leader and current federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
"Bring back Jagmeet," MacLeod heckled back.