Unlike Doug Ford, Sask. government 'has not and will not consider' cutting municipal council sizes

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s decision to chop the number of Toronto city council seats in half has been met with opposition from the city's mayor — but don't expect a similar move from the Saskatchewan government.

Amalgamation of Saskatchewan RMs a 'taboo' topic, says prof

Ontario Premier Doug Ford defended his plan to cut Toronto's city council seats Monday, saying he's heard from a lot of people who support his decision. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's decision to chop the number of Toronto city council seats in half has been met with opposition from the city's mayor — but don't expect a similar move from the Saskatchewan government.

University of Saskatchewan political studies professor Joe Garcea called the timing of the decision, which Ford announced as Toronto's civic election campaign was kicking off, "mind boggling."

Garcea said the move by Ontario's new premier is more political than policy driven.

"Essentially Ford has some scores to settle with councillors in Toronto," he said.

But Saskatchewan municipal councillors should not be worried, according to the minister responsible for municipal relations.

CBC requested an interview with the province on the issue of reducing council sizes and received an emailed statement from Minister of Government Relations Warren Kaeding.

"While the Saskatchewan government encourages municipalities to be responsible with taxpayers' dollars and cooperate regionally, the province has not and will not consider a reduction of the size of councils," the statement said.

This fall, even-numbered divisions in Saskatchewan rural municipalities will elect councillors.

Sask. should discuss amalgamation, Garcea says

While council sizes won't be shrinking, that does not mean the municipal system in Saskatchewan is perfect, according to Garcea.

"We have way too many units. [They] cannot even agree on small things in terms of being able to collaborate."

In fact, Saskatchewan has 779 total municipalities — 459 urban and 296 rural.

For comparison, Alberta has four times the population of Saskatchewan but only 352 municipalities. Ontario, with a population of 13 million people, has 444 municipalities.

Garcea said the municipal sector wields political power in Saskatchewan and even though it might make policy sense to amalgamate, "from a political standpoint, governments can't seem to touch it."

In 2000, Garcea was the author of a report and part of a task force which examined municipal consolidation. It recommended creating 125 municipal districts, but the proposal was never put into legislation by the then NDP government.

In 2016, the province commissioned a study to look at school boards. Each of the study's suggestions involved reducing the number of boards but ultimately, the province decided against a reduction.

In 2017, the province amalgamated its 13 health regions into a single authority.

'Time people start talking about it'

"It's quite interesting in Saskatchewan that governments have been able to restructure the education system, the health system, but they haven't been able to do much to restructure the municipal system," Garcea said.

"Unfortunately consolidation, amalgamation in this province is a taboo subject and it's time people start talking about it even more. Some are talking quietly but it's important to have a public debate about it," he said.

"Municipal councillors want to preserve their positions and provincial governments want to retain power, and they basically have a Mexican standoff and nothing can happen."

Garcea said amalgamation for the sake of it will not work unless there is good management.