Thursday, September 20, 2018

Some of the reasons Doug Ford's slashing of Toronto City Council is so wrong

Now that it is looking almost certain that Ontario Premier Doug Ford will get his wish to slash the number of Toronto City councillors from 47 to 25, I have been trying to find out two things:
1) Who actually pays the councillors, Toronto or Ontario?
This seems like a rather obvious question, but I realized that I didn't actually know. Most people, me included, were probably surprised that the province of Ontario actually has any legal power at all over municipal councils like Toronto, which effectively operate as self-sufficient entities (although there is an element of transfer payments from the province, in the same way as the federal government makes transfer payments to the provinces).
Anyway, yes, Toronto City councillors are paid directly by the city itself, not by the province, and councillor salaries are, for better or worse, also set by the city council itself. So, Ford is not actually saving the province a penny by all this. Rather, he is forcing a separate entity to make savings it may or may not want, and which its residents may or may not want. Which is pretty ridiculous when stated that way.
2) Are the savings Ford promises realistic, and do they outweigh the additional costs he is causing the city?
Ford says that getting rid of 22 councillors will save $25.5 million over 4 years. (Why over 4 years? Why not just say $6.3 million a year? Smoke and mirrors, perhaps?) This appears to be based on a cost per councillor of $290,000 a year. I can't find any reliable figures for this, but it presumably represents the annual salary of about $114,000, and some other unspecified sum for hiring staff, office budget, travel expenses, etc, which I have no way of checking. So, it may or may not be right, but probably does not take into account the additional staff that the 25 councillors would need to employ in order to cope with double the workload (staff are already struggling to keep abreast of all the constituents' requests, questions and complaints, as ex-councillor Ford should well know).
As for the additional costs that Ford's edict will burden Toronto with (and that with about 1 month to go before the election), this too seems to be largely unknown. Apparently, $17.5 million has been earmarked for the planning and execution of the October election, most of the planning having been already completed. How much will now need to be re-done to accommodate the re-drawn ward boundaries is anyone's guess, but it will include recalculating spending budgets for candidates, communicating the new boundary changes and polling locations to voters, preparing new voter lists, and many other matters. Given the constrained time-frame, there is also a huge likelihood of errors, and, if the legitimacy of the election is thrown into doubt as a result, then a new election will cost almost as much again. And how much has been consumed in legal costs and in unnecessarily tying up the courts? Also anyone's guess.
Anyway, these are just two of my concerns. I have many more. For example, I feel sorry for the many candidates who have given up jobs in order to run for a position as councillor, who will now presumably be facing off against twice as many other candidates. Effectively, twice as many candidates as necessary have turned their lives upside down, incurred sunk costs, and spent many hours campaigning, only to be told that the riding they want to represent no longer exists.
The other thing that has happened is that all the costs and work that went into the city's electoral boundary study that was begun in 2014 - which concluded that the numder of ridings should be INCREASED from 44 to 47 - has been made effectively redundant by the stroke of an executive pen. This detailed independent consultant's study, which was approved by 26-13 by Toronto's council, added three new ridings in heavily-populated downtown Toronto, as well as one in Willowdale, and took away one of the old downtown ridings, in an effort to equalize the numbers of constituents in each riding at around 60,000. It actually looked at the idea of using the provincial boundaries that Ford has since imposed, and specifically rejected it because it did not ensure equal representation.
I could go on. Doug Ford's move is wrong on so many different levels, it is hard to know where to start. It may be legal according to the word of the law, but it sure as hell isn't ethical or in accordance with the spirit of the law. Not that Doug Ford will lose any sleep over that. You who voted this guy in - yes, you know who you are! - I hope you are satisfied with your work.

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