Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. The 2022 municipal election in Toronto will take place on October 24.
By ALAN Shackleton
BEACH METRO COMMUNITY NEWS EDITOR
Disappointment and concern are my feelings as we head into the municipal elections this fall.
The number of candidates running for office is down across Toronto. This is disappointing and a sign of both a lack of interest and confidence in the importance of our municipal government and our school boards.
My concern is that this erosion of local democracy is precisely what our provincial government wants when it comes to Toronto.
The recent interference by Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative government in the way Toronto is governed, who represents the residents and the power they wield is an attack on our city aimed at diminishing our influence in provincial affairs.
Since the mid-1990s, there has been a deliberate attempt to weaken our city, the largest in the country and province, by the Ontario government. Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments in the province can bear the blame.
The main culprits are former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Mike Harris in the late 1990s; former Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty shortly after his first election in 2003; and Premier Ford since taking office in 2018.
But let’s start at the beginning. Mike Harris and the amalgamation of megacities – designed to weaken the power of local councils and councilors in Toronto and Ottawa. Yes, it happened in other parts of the province as well, but it was mostly an attack on big cities.
In 1997, the City of Toronto, Borough of East York, City of Scarborough, City of North York, City of York and City of Etobicoke were amalgamated into the megacity. The public school boards of these municipalities were also amalgamated into the gigantic (and unmanageable) Toronto District School Board.
Then there’s Dalton McGuinty, who was elected on a wave of voter discontent and revulsion at what Mike Harris (and his successor Ernie Eves) had done. McGuinty had a chance to “unravel” the failed idea of megacity mergers, but didn’t.
It was a terrible decision. He entrenched what had been a Progressive Conservative attack on local democracy and made it provincial government policy. It showed McGuinty’s true colors when it came to defending the rights of Toronto and other urban areas.
Thank you Dalton!
And then there was 2018 when the Ford government cut the number of council seats in Toronto from 44 to 25 shortly before the municipal election.
It was a decision that weakened the Toronto Council. Nothing against our councilors, but they now serve areas of the city the size of their corresponding provincial and federal ridings. They are too large in size and population. There are so many varied needs and different demographics that services cannot be served in a way that prioritizes the needs of community residents. Good municipal government works when councilors are deeply connected to the residents who elected them.
So that was the first time Premier Ford shot us four years ago.
This time, for the October 24 municipal elections, he had the idea earlier this summer that Toronto and Ottawa (and possibly other municipalities now) will have a strong mayoral system. It’s a terrible idea. It puts power in the hands of even fewer elected officials and renders any form of opposition unnecessary. Trying to justify this as a way to increase affordable housing is a scam.
Electing a “strong mayor” who gets the most votes among the 31 candidates running for office with a turnout of just 40.9% (which was the case in Toronto in the 2018 municipal elections) is not not a “strong” mandate. It’s a recipe for disaster.
That being said, check out the pages of Beach Metro Community News this fall (and on our website at www.beachmetro.com) as we cover this municipal election.
The system is now stacked against Toronto voters, and some may say why bother to vote. This is exactly what those who attack our democracy want. A strong voter turnout will show that local democracy is not dead in Toronto.
Please vote in October and make a statement showing that you care about the future of our city.