We were right. Doug Ford is a Donald Trump. He is so enamoured with his own self-proclaimed expertise in business that he thinks he can run the government as if it were his private company. Notwithstanding the apparent advice of more experienced politicians around him, he has DECLARED that Toronto’s current ward system for municipal government is obsolete and that Toronto’s amalgamated City Council will be cut from 47 to 25 councillors.
Let us put aside the pros and cons of a reformed City Council. Many may agree that reform at the city level is required. I would agree to that. But there is absolutely no consensus on what kind of City Council we require. How many constituents are best served by a single Councillor? What is the relationship between the overall City Council and local Community Councils? How can a reduced number of councillors serve on the local councils and all City committees as well? All these are issues for empirical data and for discussion.
DOUG FORD HAS PREEMPTED ALL THAT. Just as Mike Harris did in December 1996, when he announced that the City of Toronto would be amalgamated by provincial fiat.
In the face of the public outcry that followed, even the Mike Harris government was forced to have public hearings at Queen’s Park on the issue. As I remember, over 600 individuals, experts and groups made submissions to the Legislature; only four spoke in favour of amalgamation. But Mike Harris’ majority government went ahead anyway, and we have been living with the consequences ever since. Whatever one thinks of the amalgamated City of Toronto, there is no doubt that amalgamation did not save money.
BUT DOUG FORD HAS GONE A STEP FURTHER. In the midst of a municipal election cycle, after most candidates have already registered to contest Council seats in existing wards, are already raising money and putting together their campaigns, and on the precise day nominations were to close, Ford HAS CHANGED THE RULES OF OUR MUNICIPAL ELECTION SET FOR OCTOBER 22nd.
As reported in the press, he has “thrown a bomb into our current municipal election,” so that whether the city can actually conduct the upcoming election is highly problematic. No advance notice. No opportunity for consultation with affected parties and the public. No discussion of the pros and cons of the new system. No reference to recent reforms to make our ward system more democratic. No consideration as to how the change of rules can even be implemented. None of this.
The simple answer, for a simple man unschooled in the subtleties and sophistication of politics, is that the municipal affairs of the City of Toronto will be governed using the constituencies established for federal and provincial purposes. An easy answer… to save taxpayers money.
Oh yeah? Not if I can help it. The last time I was this angry was when Mike Harris made his similar arbitrary announcement about the amalgamation of the City of Toronto. The provincial government, especially with a majority, may have the legal power to change the laws affecting how cities are run. But legal powers exist in the context of legal conventions, many of which are not written.
Canada’s administrative law applicable to all governments and government agencies (over and above the Charter) recognizes that people ought not be deprived of their rights except in accordance with “principles of fundamental justice.” What are “principles of fundamental justice”?
- the right to know the case against you
- the right to make representations on your own behalf
- the right to a fair hearing
- the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure
- and, more broadly, “principles of fundamental justice” also include the right to fairness and to freedom from arbitrary action
If these rights are applicable to persons accused of offences before the courts, and to other individuals in civil conflicts with the state, they are equally applicable to candidates in current municipal elections and to voters who expect that our current election will be conducted according to the rules in effect at the time the election cycle begins.
There is nothing fair about changing the rules of our upcoming municipal election less than three months before election date. Doug Ford’s announcement is the epitome of arbitrary action. He doesn’t yet have legislative authority for what he intends to do, and already the upcoming election is thrown into chaos.
Fairness and freedom from arbitrary action are conventions in our political and legislative process which are unwritten but important nevertheless. What is most disturbing about Donald Trump is that he is unaware of existing political and governmental conventions, or ignores them at his pleasure, and does so with little public or political protest.
Doug Ford’s arbitrary and unfair interference in the current City of Toronto municipal process is analogous. I, for one, will not stand by and let it happen. Nor should anyone else. Our fundamental rights as a democracy play out in the context of process. Process is important. The issue is not reform of the Toronto City Council. The issue is the arbitrary and unfair actions of a provincial government which thinks it can change the rules without any input from the people affected.
I will be at City Council Monday morning to hear the continuing debate on what the City plans to do about this matter. I would urge you to take whatever action you can to require that the current election proceed according to existing rules.