Toronto election in turmoil as Premier Doug Ford pushes to slash number of councillors

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's unprecedented attempt to cut the size of Toronto council nearly in half in the middle of an election has thrown the city's voting process into disarray.

Unprecedented politics and court challenges threaten to disrupt Oct. 22 municipal election

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is pushing ahead with new legislation to cut the size ahead of Toronto city council despite a court blocking his government's initial attempt. The result? Toronto's city clerk is warning it's getting difficult to plan a fair election for Oct. 22. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's unprecedented attempt to slash the size of Toronto council in the middle of a municipal election has thrown the city's voting process into turmoil.

The Progressive Conservative government is vowing the election will go ahead, as scheduled, on Oct. 22. But Toronto's city clerk is warning that date is in doubt as the province moves to pass legislation that will reduce the number of councillors from 47 to 25.

Here's a timeline of what's happened so far: 

  • May 1: City of Toronto opens nominations for mayor and councillors under the 47-ward system, attracting dozens of candidates. With four new wards created (one other ward was redrawn) it's expected that council will attract some new faces, while those living in rapidly-growing areas will get better representation.
  • June 7: Ford's PCs win a majority in the Ontario election. While the NDP wins most of Toronto, the PCs capture seats in Etobicoke, York and Scarborough.
  • July 26: News breaks that Ford, who served one term on city council when his brother, the late Rob Ford, was mayor, plans to align Toronto's ward map with provincial ridings. The move would result in Toronto having 25, not 47, councillors after the Oct. 22 municipal election. Ford did not campaign on this plan, which shocked many across the city.
Toronto Mayor John Tory has repeatedly accused Ford of 'changing the rules in the middle of the game' with his plan to overturn council's decision to expand to 47 wards. The plan, passed after years of consultation, was also upheld by the Ontario municipal board and survived a court challenge. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)
  • July 27: Nominations for mayor close at city hall, as scheduled. Jennifer Keesmaat, the city's former chief planner, files a last-minute entry. Meanwhile, Mayor John Tory decries Ford's move at a news conference, accusing the premier of "meddling" in Toronto's election.
  • July 31: Rocco Achampong, a lawyer and candidate hoping to represent the Eglinton-Lawrence ward, seeks an injunction at the Toronto division of Ontario Superior Court that would block the PCs proposed legislation. 
  • Aug. 14: The government passes the Better Local Government Act. "The people want smaller government," Ford declares on the floor of the legislature.
  • Aug. 20: Toronto's city clerk reopens councillor nominations under a 25-ward system and sets a Sept. 14 deadline to enter the race. No new candidates are allowed to enter the mayoral race. Meanwhile, Toronto city council votes 27-15 to join a court challenge of the Better Local Government Act at an emergency council meeting, despite the city solicitor's advice that a win is unlikely.
While some city councillors support Ford's move, a majority voted to condemn the plan to cut their ranks. (Lauren Pelley/CBC)
  • Aug. 20-Sept. 10: Candidates sign up under the 25-ward system, with a number of incumbents set to square off across the city, likely making it difficult for new candidates to break through. A number of current councillors announce they won't seek re-election.
  • Sept. 10: An Ontario judge blocks Ford's Better Local Government Act. Toronto's city clerk immediately starts planning to run a 47-ward election. But then, Ford announces a plan to use the constitutional notwithstanding clause to override the judge's ruling.
  • Sept. 11: Toronto's city clerk closes nominations completely, leaving a number of incumbent councillors who hadn't signed up for the race wondering if they'll be allowed to run.
A protester in the public gallery of Queen's Park is arrested and handcuffed on Sept. 12. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
  • Sept. 12: The government introduces a new Efficient Local Government Act, extending the nomination window to two days after the bill receives royal assent. The legislation also removes the requirement for city to hold an advance vote, which had been set for Oct. 10. Demonstrators at the Queen's Park public gallery are forced to leave, some in handcuffs. The NDP also stages a mass protest, which results in every party member being ejected from the legislature.
  • Sept. 13: At another emergency council meeting, Toronto's city clerk Ulli Watkiss tells councillors the uncertainty is making it "virtually impossible" to hold a fair and accessible vote. Councillors vote in favour of challenging the Efficient Local Government Act in court, despite again being told they're facing an "uphill battle." Council also votes to ask the federal government to step in and quash the province's plans. 
Toronto's city clerk Ulli Watkiss, left, confers with a colleague during a Sept. 13 emergency city council meeting. Watkiss told councillors she's concerned she won't be able to ensure the integrity of the 2018 municipal election, something she is legally required to do under provincial legislation. (John Rieti/CBC)
  • Sept. 14: In a rare move, Ford orders the legislature to sit on the weekend to speed up passage of the council-slashing legislation. The government house leader maintains the Oct. 22 election will go ahead as planned.

What's next? Stay tuned.


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