Last minute News that Toronto city council will shrink from 47 to 25 candidates dropped like a bombshell when announced this week by rookie Premier Doug Ford.
Reaction has been mixed, but what else could one expect residing in Ford Nation?
Enthusiasts of the idea see Ford cutting waste and speeding up the process. Detractors decry change and point to the irony of a premier elected on the pledge of serving the people, performing an affront to democracy by eliminating the very individuals charged with representing those same people.
Once the rhetoric dies down, a little at least, it will become clear that reorganizing municipal government is certainly within the domain of the provincial government. It is after all the body that oversees the Ontario Municipal Act, which is subject to amendment or change at any time.
Despite that, Toronto city council has announced its intention to seek a legal review – at further expense to taxpayers we might add.
The wisdom behind Ford’s plan seems mostly based on the populist notion that politicians themselves are a problem. Applying that logic, less politicians will equal less problems. That seems pretty simple, but what about the people of which he speaks.
For many local readers the prospect of change in Toronto may as well be in a far distant land. Populism however has little regard for geography and sweeping changes are often deployed elsewhere. Talk has already surfaced of possible changes to regional government in the future.
Imagine for a moment that Ford’s sights become trained on “saving” even more money. Perhaps this wisdom will evolve to suggest single tier governments are the best option across the province, eliminating local councils in the process. Just think of the savings. This is a movie we have seen before and spoiler alert – there have never been savings of long-term consequence from such radical changes.
It brings to mind the last round of amalgamation in Wellington County, where 21 municipalities shrunk to seven larger entities. More than one old reeve marveled at the time that residents would never see things cheaper than they were then. How true that proved.
If population masses of 100,000 people, as found in average Toronto federal ridings, are easily taken care of by one representative, Wellington could abandon its current council configuration and have one elected person. It doesn’t sound sensible when considered in that context, but that is the logic being applied.
Although the power indeed exists to slash representation and alter the current structure of Toronto city council, or any other elected municipal or regional body for that matter, alarm bells should be going off about the placing of power in the hands of so few people.
At the very least, community councils reminiscent of trustees found in old police villages might be a mechanism to ensure neighbourhoods and communities have a voice.
While it may well improve the ability of councils to get things done, we have great concern about this concentration of power and the potential damage that can emerge when too few people control the outcomes of important issues.
As to Ford and his idea of chopping council numbers without public discourse on the subject to save money – yes he can.
However ill-advised or wrong-headed, to those of us concerned with ensuring that a healthy, vibrant democracy is around for future generations, the power of election remains absolute.