Governance

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Toronto City Hall

Background

What’s happening with Toronto’s City Hall?

In July, Doug Ford announced his intention to cut Toronto’s city hall in half, under Bill 31. He claims this action will save the taxpayers money. This proposal to cut city council was announced while the election was already under way, and was not an item on which he campaigned. The city voted to – along with a group of independent activists – take the decision to court. The Ontario courts ruled that the cut was an infringement on charter of rights and freedoms. Doug Ford used the notwithstanding clause to implement the cuts anyways, and council is now down to 25 wards which have a variety of impacts we will outline below. 

Well will  it save money?

Ford claims that the cut will save $25-million over four years. Some news and snippets frame it as saving $25-million upfront. This estimate is incorrect (consider that city council’s annual budget is around $17-million total). This number does not take into account the millions of dollars spent on a research study and consultation that resulted in the original 47 ward plan; the additional administrative costs for an election already under way; or the legal costs his government paid to fight for this ward change in court.

Is this legal?

Debatable. Citizens took the Ontario government to the Ontario Supreme Court, where the Justice deemed this motion violated the people’s freedom of expression. Ford then used the notwithstanding clause (for the first time in Ontario’s history) which allows a government to acknowledge a bill breaks the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter), but in an extreme case, it will suspend those rights (see the link in the resources list below for more info). Notwithstanding usage was most notably used during the terrorist crisis in Quebec by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) or the Quebec Liberation Front. The notwithstanding clause also expires after five years. The court systems granted Ford a stay motion (a suspension of a proceeding within a case) so that the Toronto election continues under this model while the court systems work through appeals and decisions.

How will this change impact Torontonians?

It definitely impacted the election process. The switch up resulted in a new list of candidates who had to readjust their outreach and campaigning. It resulted in increased confusion for voters. Unsurprisingly, it also resulted in few new faces at city hall, and a mostly white and male council. Democracy Toronto did an excellent piece that projected what the council makeup would have looked like with the original 47 ward model based on how the votes came in. The piece is titled “Women, Diversity, and 4 Guys Named Mike” which you can read here.

In the long run, city council resources will be stretched thin. Access to your city councillor for local issues will be limited. There is a huge advantage for incumbents (people who are already councillors), and many challengers have had to drop out. Some incumbents, such as Sarah Doucette, had to drop out. Finally, using the notwithstanding clause to push this type of bill through sets a dangerous precedent: it takes autonomy away from the voters of Toronto, which may extend into other issues depending on Ford’s future actions.

What practical changes will be happening to city hall in the new term?

There is a lot up in the air. With the same staffing budget and approximately 100,000 more residents per ward to represent, resources are stretched thin. City Hall committees (such as Transit committee) will also need some restructuring to function under the new plan. City staff released a report in late November proposing how to move forward. The report highlighted many of the “unsustainable” aspects of city hall under the new structure and proposed some solutions. The new city council will be reviewing and discussing the proposal after they are sworn in December 4. 

Take Action!

  • Familiarize yourself with the staff report and contact your new councillor to support solutions you believe work for your community
  • Attend city hall meetings. City hall is your space, most meetings are open and you can go to show support or just to learn more.
  • Follow the city hall agendas! Neville Park, a local activist and writer, has a great explainer series you can follow here.
  • Transitions are difficult, transitions of this scale are nearly incomprehensible. What do you care about that you fear may not get the attention it needs during this transition? For example, with the cold weather here, shelter capacity is always an issue.Write your councillor’s office frequently about issues you feel are getting lost in transition.
  • Join your local neighbourhood Facebook Group. With resources being thinned out, we need to lean on each other and form our own community solutions.

Resources:

 

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Ontario Cabinet Ministers

What is the Cabinet and why should I care?

As Premier, Doug Ford can build an Executive Council of Ontario (or “cabinet”) of ministers to represent various issues. How the Cabinet is structured and who is appointed gives citizens a sense of the government’s priorities and expertise.

Ok, so who’s in the cabinet?

At present, the cabinet ministers representing Ontario’s issues are composed 14 men and seven women, and only one of them is a visible minority. The current cabinet’s lack of diversity provides a very narrow view of representation for those making important decisions on behalf of the province. It is worth comparing a minister’s professional history and experience against the position for which they have been appointed.

Did anything get cut?

There are seven fewer cabinet members than the previous government. One example is that he eliminated the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. Some of the changes did not result in elimination but a re-framing. For example “Minister of The Environment” was renamed to eliminate the words climate change. Ministry of the Status of Women was also cut.

How is the PC caucus working with Ford?

On November 24, a news item came out that Ford feared disgruntled Tory MPPs would leave the party. On November 29, MPP Amanda Simard left the PC party to sit as an independent amid Ford`s decisions to cut resources for Ontario`s francophone community. 

Take Action!

  • Stay Informed: If there is an issue you are passionate about, follow that ministry. You can add their news releases to your RSS feed, sign up for that Minister’s newsletter, and set google alerts to your email.
  • Contact your Member of Provincial Parliament: If a ministry you follow is putting something to a vote and you want your voice heard, contact your local MPP. It is also worth familiarizing yourself with what is in your MPPs portfolio, and what their background is. They may have more influence with certain issues over others.
  • Volunteer: For the ministries that were cut or “modified”, find a local organization to volunteer with that effectively represents that issue. The issues themselves did not disappear, they were deprioritized, and there are charities, non-profits, and grassroots groups working to fill the new gaps. Have a great volunteer opportunity to share? Contact us!

Resources:

 

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In The Media

Why are people clapping so much during press conferences?

Conservative staff members have been filling press conferences and loudly clapping during Ford’s announcements. The clapping makes it difficult for journalists to ask questions, which is supposed to be the point of a press conference. This type of behaviour is new and impedes journalists from doing their jobs.

What’s that new Ontario News network?

Ontario News Now is a taxpayer-funded news channel implemented by Doug Ford to get his message out, instead of via traditional (unbiased) news media. Some may call it propaganda.

Take Action!

  • Be skeptical: Read multiple viewpoints on an issue to ensure you’re getting the full story.
  • Challenge Propaganda: If someone you know cites Ontario News Now, gently ask them what other news sources they looked at on the issue, ask follow up questions on the issue, use fact based evidence in discussions, if you’re online feel free to cite your resources when commenting.
  • Call Out your MPP: If you saw your MPP clapping during a news conference, write them and let them know you disapprove.

Resources:

 

Did we miss something? Is there an update we should know? Feel free to contact us with your tips and updates!