Ford's plan to cut back number of Toronto councillors draws both their anger and praise

Ontario's new Progressive Conservative government will redraw the City of Toronto's ward boundaries and cut the number of councillors from 47 to 25 ahead of the Oct. 22 election — drawing both anger and praise from various councillors.

Some city councillors were quick to denounce idea, but others welcomed it

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government on Friday announced plans to cut the number of Toronto city councillors from 47 to 25 and redraw the city's ward boundaries. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Ontario's new Progressive Conservative government is redrawing the City of Toronto's ward boundaries and cutting the number of councillors from 47 to 25 ahead of the Oct. 22 election — drawing both anger and praise from various councillors. 

News broke on Thursday night that Premier Doug Ford's government plans to reduce the number of wards in Toronto to match federal and provincial riding boundaries, as well as cancel regional chair elections in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka. 

Ford confirmed the controversial move Friday during a morning news conference at Queen's Park, explaining the cuts will streamline the decision-making process at City Hall. 

He said council has "failed to act on the critical issues facing the city," calling it the "most dysfunctional political arena" in the country.

"It will only get worse if Toronto city council grows from 44 to 47 politicians," Ford told reporters. "People care about getting things done, they don't care about politicians."

Toronto Mayor John Tory said Friday that Ford did not mention his intention to significantly reduce the size of city council in any conversations the two have had since Ford was elected. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

The move comes on the heels of a recently completed years-long consultation and review process that officially expanded Toronto city council to 47 wards from 44 in time for the Oct. 22 vote. 

Cutting the size of council would likely necessitate changes to the province's Municipal Elections Act, which could have an impact on communities throughout Ontario. 

Ford's announcement was made hours before the deadline for candidates to register for the election — 2 p.m. ET Friday.

Swift reaction from councillors 

Councillors, some in favour and others against Ford's plan, were quick to respond to the news.

Some, including Coun. Gord Perks, warned it could throw this October's municipal election into chaos.

Others, including ​Coun. Jim Karygiannis, who has previously called for municipal boundaries to be aligned with federal ones, were in support.

"Hell yeah, bring it on. Bring it on," he said when he was reached by phone on Thursday. 

'Horrible disrespect'

Perks points out the boundaries of the current wards were the result of years of consultations that heard from thousands of Torontonians. It also recently prevailed despite being challenged at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and in court.

Ignoring all of that, Perks said, shows "horrible disrespect" to local democracy.

Coun. Gord Perks criticized the move in light of the upcoming municipal election. (CBC News)

"Doug Ford doesn't care about the people of Toronto, or the courts," he told CBC Toronto.

"If Doug Ford wanted to be the mayor of Toronto he should have done that."

Ford had planned to run against Mayor John Tory, but bowed out to successfully run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party before becoming premier.

He was a city councillor representing Ward 2, Etobicoke North, from 2010 to 2014 while his brother, the late Rob Ford, was mayor.

Ford, who also tangled on a wide range of issues with Perks and other members of council while mayor Ford battled a series of high-profile scandals, often advocated cutting council in half, saying it would save taxpayers a large amount of money.

But there won't be dramatic savings for local taxpayers. The 2018 operating budget for Toronto city councillors is $23 million — which makes up a tiny percentage of the city's $13 billion total operating budget.

Other shakeups? 

Perks said he believes Ford wants these changes to take hold before the Oct. 22 election, but it's unclear if that would even be possible given the complexity of the election process. Hundreds of people have already declared their candidacies.

Perks said changing the Municipal Elections Act would have to go through the Ontario Legislature and could result in a shakeup in other Ontario municipalities.

Perks refused to speculate on whether the new PC government would support the move, but suggested Ford shouldn't even try.

"He's got a province to run, he should focus on that," Perks said.

Other councillors have also spoken out.

Coun. Josh Matlow called it "anti-democratic" and "reckless" and said such changes would cancel an election process that's already started.

Coun. Janet Davis tweeted that it "is a gross misuse of power."

Councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Joe Cressy also spoke out on Twitter.

Wong-Tam told CBC Toronto called the plan "extremely anti-democratic" and described it "as a takeover of Toronto."

"This greater concentration of power does not give and deliver better government," she said. "He will speak in populist platitudes about saving taxpayer dollars, but it's going to come at the cost of the erosion of the democratic process."

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam called the Ford government's plan 'extremely anti-democratic' and described it 'as a takeover of Toronto.' (CBC)

The councillor said she felt Ford's reported move was "an affront on our local democracy" and added that it would not bring Toronto closer together. 

"It's going to make things worse for our city," she said. "This is a form of amalgamation, which we already lived through in 1996."

Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath also slammed news of Ford's reported decision in a statement. 

"It appears that Doug Ford cooked up a backroom plot to use his new power to meddle in municipal elections. He didn't campaign on it. He didn't consult people on it," Horwath said. 

"It's clear that Mr. Ford wants a smaller number of councillors to have more power, fewer checks and balances, and less accountability. This is obviously a move to make it easier for the premier to control Toronto City Hall."

Some councillors support change

But the PCs' plan has also drawn support from other factions at City Hall who welcomed the idea as being long overdue. 

Karygiannis suggested the only councillors concerned with the change are those aligned with the NDP, or those afraid of losing their seats. (Despite council having no party affiliations, many councillors picked sides in the June provincial election.) 

Coun. Jim Karygiannis, who has previously called for municipal boundaries to be aligned with federal ones, was ecstatic about the move by Premier Ford. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC News)

He also downplayed concerns this would mean less representation for those living in growing downtown wards, suggesting there's no problem dealing with more constituent demands. 

Coun. Justin Di Ciano thanked the premier on Twitter and said changing the wards "makes sense for so many reasons." Di Ciano also responded to critics on Twitter.

Mayor John Tory blasted the plan Friday before Ford spoke, and accused the premier of "meddling" with the city's affairs.

Tory said the premier should not be interfering, as hundreds of people have begun campaigning and fundraising for the municipal election.

"You just don't change the rules in the middle of the game," said Tory.

He said the process by which the province has chosen to go about the move "is absolutely not right."

Ford cancels regional chair elections

The Ford government also cancellled planned elections for regional chair positions in two Greater Toronto Area communities — Peel Region and York Region.

That move will put a damper on the political redemption hopes of Patrick Brown, whom Ford replaced as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

Patrick Brown's political redemption hopes could be damped if the Ford government's move to cancel planned elections for regional chair positions in Peel Region and York Region go through. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

Brown, who stepped down as Tory leader in January amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has repeatedly denied, had thrown his hat into the ring to become chair of Peel Region.

Horwath described the cancellations of those regional elections as "deeply chilling."

The Toronto Star's Queen's Park bureau chief Robert Benzie broke the story about Ford's council-reduction plan, and discussed it with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Friday at 7:10 a.m. ET.

With files from John Rieti, Lauren Pelley, Lucas Powers, Amara McLaughlin and The Canadian Press