Toronto city councillors have voted in favour of legal action against provincial legislation that cuts council nearly in half.
Council voted to exhaust all legal avenues when it comes to Bill 5, which will be slashing council from 47 to 25 councillors. They have also voted to direct the City Solicitor to seek a postponement of the municipal election should it be deemed necessary in order to challenge the legality of the legislation.
Toronto council voted 27-15 to challenge the Progressive Conservative government’s legislation, which also cancels planned elections for the head of council position in the regional municipalities of Muskoka, Peel, York and Niagara. The head of council in each region will instead be appointed.
“We have instructed city legal staff to challenge this monumental change to our city’s governance in the courts,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement.
“Challenging this legislation and the process used to introduce it is the right and responsible thing to do,” Tory said.
Tory spokesman Don Peat said the city will now take part in a Superior Court hearing on Aug. 31 and any other legal proceedings related to the legislation.
The meeting initially started with members of the public sitting in the gallery, but moved to a closed-door session.
Earlier, Coun. Janet Davis, was among those arguing against a motion that would have them debate the solicitor’s report in public.
“Why in the world would we give away our legal strategy before we even begin. I think the motion to make this public is about sabotaging the city’s position,” Davis said.
Before the meeting went in a closed session, Coun. Joe Cressy asked if the City of Toronto can ignore Bill 5 and proceed with a 47-ward election. The city’s clerk replied saying she is required to follow provincial law.
The city clerk also said it is not possible to plan for both a 25-ward and 47-ward election at the same time.
“We further risk confusing the public, confusing candidates, confusing our workers — all of whom need to be trained. It is simply not feasible,” she said.
An earlier report from the city clerk’s office said even if a legal challenge was successful, there is not enough to switch back to a 47-ward election without what it called “unacceptable risks.”
The city’s clerk, Ulli Watkiss, said staff would need to map new voting locations and seek new permits for some, redistribute thousands of workers and rejig and re-test electronic information systems, among others tasks. She questioned whether the work could be accomplished in time for the election.
Over the weekend, Premier Doug Ford Ford sent an open letter to Tory, urging him to include the discussion of fighting guns and gangs in Monday’s meeting.
In the letter, Ford asked the mayor to expedite the process of matching the $25-million over four years that the province has promised to Toronto police.
But Ford isn’t the only one putting Tory in the hot seat.
In a statement released on Monday, mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat blamed Tory for the situation facing council.
“It didn’t need to come to this,” Keesmaat said.
“If we had a stronger mayor in the chair, Doug Ford would have thought twice before swooping in and upending our elections.”
She said that if she were mayor, she would have fought “from the start, and every step of the way.”