City recommends governance changes, bigger budgets for 26-member council in wake of province's cuts

A new report recommends “recalibrating” council’s governance structure by potentially boosting councillor office budgets, reducing the number of appointments to city boards and committees, and rejigging the number of standing committees into four broad areas.

New report proposes 'recalibrating' council, rejigging number of standing committees

Published on Wednesday, the report from city manager Chris Murray and city clerk Ulli Watkiss recommends 'recalibrating' council's governance structure. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A new report offers a roadmap forward for city council's new 25-ward system in the wake of the province's bombshell mid-election cuts.

Published on Wednesday, the report from city manager Chris Murray and city clerk Ulli Watkiss recommends "recalibrating" council's governance structure by potentially boosting councillor office budgets, reducing the number of appointments to city boards and committees, and rejigging the number of standing committees into four broad areas.

On the budget front, three options beyond the status quo are proposed, including slight increases beyond each councillor's $241,000 office salary pool and $34,000 office budget, up to double each amount.

That's the option re-elected councillor Josh Matlow prefers.

"Ever since the election, I've had double the number of constituents, but the same number of staff," he said after the report's release.

"We are deluged by correspondence."

Mayor John Tory has previously expressed support publicly for per-capita funding, saying he'd heard concerns from councillors about the need to raise budgets.

The report also proposes streamlining councillor appointments to boards, noting the nearly 400 council appointments to 170 boards last term "placed excessive demands" on the outgoing 44 councillors and "would pose significant challenges" for the incoming 25 members and the mayor.

"Failing to address this issue before City Council makes appointments at its first meeting will lead to attendance and quorum problems for many of these bodies," the report continues.

The report proposes streamlining councillor appointments to boards and scrapping the current model of seven council standing committees in favour of only four. (City of Toronto)

Current standing committees 'not sustainable'

It also suggests scrapping the current model of seven council standing committees plus the executive committee — the powerful advisory body chaired by the mayor — saying that arrangement is "not sustainable."

Instead, Murray and Watkiss recommend chopping the number of standing committees down to four, with six councillors on each. The proposed broader themes would be Community and Economic Development, General Government and Licensing, Infrastructure and Environment, and Planning and Housing.

"The committee structure does look a little mashed-together, but there are synergies," said re-elected councillor Paula Fletcher, though she questioned the combination of licensing and general government, which would handle everything from property standards to major contracts.

Jim Karygiannis, who was also re-elected in the October election, agreed. The current Licensing and Standards committee should remain "standalone," he said, given the broad array of issues already within its purview, from "hot dog vendors to taxi cabs... to shisha parlours to the licensing of holistic spas."

More staff on boards instead, Fletcher added, means more people accountable to corporate interests, rather than elected officials accountable to their constituents. "That's blurring the line," she said.

The report also suggests maintaining multiple special committees, including those focused on the budget and civic appointments, which are only called into session when there is business to attend to.

When it comes to community council boundaries, the document also recommends aligning with the borders outlined for the 47-ward model — a larger council size initially planned for the 2018 election after significant consultation, before the Ford government passed legislation to match the wards with federal and provincial ridings instead.

The report recommends aligning the city's four community councils with the boundaries outlined for the initial 47-ward model. (City of Toronto)

'It was an anti-democratic action'

Without changes to the governance structure, the report suggests council members would "experience difficulty attending all required meetings, potentially causing quorum issues and impairing the ability of committees and boards to function effectively."

It also calls for a special committee on governance, tasked with figuring out the impact of a reduced council size, seeing how interim recommendations are working, and recommending any further changes as needed.

"Once we figure out how it works, I think we'll be streamlining and doing things a lot faster," Karygiannis said, adding there could be cost savings from having fewer councillor salaries.

Ford also defended the cuts Wednesday at Queen's Park, calling city hall the "most dysfunctional political arena" in the country. Now the mayor will only need "13 votes" to get transit built, he said, adding, "John Tory and I are going to do great things."

But given the challenges facing the incoming smaller council, and the potential budget increases needed to ensure it can function, Matlow believes Premier Doug Ford's promise of $25 million in savings from the council reduction was "never true to begin with.

"It was a political action. It was a unilateral action. And it was an anti-democratic action," he added. "Even though I'm happy I was elected … I'm still incredibly upset about what Premier Ford did to our local democracy, and the way that he did it."

The new council is being sworn in at the first meeting of the new term on Tuesday, and will consider Murray and Watkiss's report the following day.

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca