A petition from the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition demanding that City Council immediately reduce its size by half was rebuffed by council.
In doing so, it may have set the stage for a battle at the Ontario Municipal Board, that could see voters elect a 25-member council as early as next year.
“We’ve been talking about going to the OMB, we’re prepared to do so, and we’re going to consider everything that happened today,” said Matthew McGuire, president of the organization that he claims represents between 3,000 and 4,000 Toronto taxpayers.
The group, which was formed following the 2010 municipal election, has been a consistent advocate for many of the policies supported by Mayor Rob Ford, including the Sheppard subway plan. When last month Toronto Council supported going forward with a process to redraw ward boundaries in time for the 2018 election, the group launched a petition, demanding the move happen sooner and that council cut its membership in half.
The petition carries weight, because the City of Toronto Act includes a provision allowing a petition of 500 electors to force a municipality to vote on their proposal for redrawn electoral boundaries.
The petition submitted by the taxpayers’ coalition had twice that number. Under the Act, if council refuses to deal with the matter within 90 days the matter can go to the Ontario Municipal Board, and any decision they make can also be appealed there.
Councillors debated the matter Thursday afternoon, July 18, and voted 25-13 to deny the request. Mayor Rob Ford urged councillors to approve the smaller council.
“I truly believe that we must do what the taxpayers want,” said Ford. “They want less politicians and more action.”
Ford suggested the move would be “risky” for councillors to support, because “you’re going to run against an incumbent.”
His brother, Doug Ford, took matters a step further and accused councillors opposing the immediate reduction in the size of council of simply attempting to protect their own jobs.
“It’s not about working for the people – it’s about working for themselves,” said Ford. “It goes across all political stripes.”
As he finished, however, he noted, “I got all the lefties chirping behind me, folks, they want to get that gravy train going again.”
Other councillors, however, pointed out the process council had set in place would do the same job. And many of them suggested Torontonians wouldn’t be well served by fewer representatives.
“You can reduce politicians,” said Trinity-Spadina Councillor Adam Vaughan. “Keep reducing ‘til you get to one. Lots of countries do that. It’s called dictatorship.”