Pickering appoints new councillor in controversial move, angering residents

Furious Pickering residents accused the city’s mayor of violating their democratic rights at a meeting on Monday night after a controversial appointment.

Runner-up in last election now represents ward at heart of intense airport debate

Pickering resident Rob Devlin is escorted out of city hall after he angrily voiced his opinion following a controversial city council decision to appoint a new councillor on Monday night. 0:50

Furious Pickering residents accused the city's mayor of violating their democratic rights at a meeting on Monday night after a controversial appointment.

Pickering's city council made the surprise move to appoint a new councillor in Ward 3 — which contains the land where an airport could one day be built — instead of holding a byelection.

Shaheen Butt, who doesn't live in the ward but finished second in the 2014 municipal election, will fill the spot left vacant following Rick Johnson's death this fall. In the last vote, Butt won just 1,743 votes compared to Johnson's 4,586.

After council voted against a byelection (the vote was split, 3-3, which meant the byelection wouldn't be held), Ward 3 residents like Angie Jones were shocked that the mayor moved forward with an appointment. 

"The mayor could have stopped it," Jones told CBC Toronto.

"He's the one who voted against democracy."

Ward 3 resident Angie Jones said she felt like her democratic rights were trampled at Monday night's meeting. (CBC)

Jones said the appointment means she no longer has someone who represents her on council. Other community members accused the council of orchestrating the appointment to avoid having an anti-airport candidate win a byelection in the ward.

Mayor Dave Ryan said the council's actions were appropriate, especially because a byelection would be costly and may only get a 10 per cent voter turnout (in comparison, the ward's turnout in the last municipal election was 32 per cent).

"We have a responsibility to make decisions that we feel represent the community as a whole," Ryan said, adding the angry residents in attendance mainly come from two specific areas.  

Ryan said he didn't discuss the appointment with Butt beforehand and doesn't know the incoming councillor's stance when it comes to the airport issue. The federal government, the mayor noted, will decide whether or not to build the airport — thought the city has asked for a decision soon.  

Mayor Dave Ryan said the appointment will save the city money. (CBC)

Butt, who attended the meeting, accepted the position but declined to speak with reporters. 

Kevin Ashe, the regional councillor for Ward 1, said it's in Pickering's best interest to appoint someone rather than hold a byelection, which he said would be expensive.

"Is democracy served by a 10 per cent turnout? Is the top vote-getter out of 10 with 400 votes the best way for democracy? I don't know the answer to that," Ashe said.

"I just know I'm elected here to make decisions. I was comfortable making the decision. I'm comfortable moving forward."

Like the mayor, Ashe said he doesn't know Butt's stance on a potential airport development.

Pickering residents say they're tired of the politics

Residents said they couldn't believe what they were hearing from the councillors.

"This is not right," said Rob Devlin, who was forced to leave city hall after his frustration boiled over.

"This guy isn't going to do anything for us."

Gord McGregor, who has been involved with the anti-airport group Land over Landings, accused city council of picking and choosing who they wanted to replace Johnson. Ward 3, he said, needs someone from the ward to represent them.

"I know the politics of this … and I'm tired of it," he said.

Butt is set to be sworn in this December.

With files from Greg Ross