Toronto coun­cil dis­pute dis­tract­ing from key is­sues, say can­di­dates, vot­ers

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - ONTARIO NEWS - SHAWN JEFFORDS

TORONTO — Un­til re­cently, traf­fic con­ges­tion and lack of af­ford­able hous­ing were ex­pected to dom­i­nate Toronto’s fall elec­tion, but now some can­di­dates and vot­ers are wor­ried the fierce de­bate over the coun­cil’s size is over­shad­ow­ing the is­sues they con­sider vi­tal for the res­i­dents of Canada’s largest city.

The dis­pute be­tween Toronto and the prov­ince, trig­gered by Pre­mier Doug Ford’s surprise move in late July to re­duce Toronto coun­cil to 25 seats from 47, has been dom­i­nat­ing the cam­paign — and head­lines — for weeks.

It is also the main is­sue Coun. Mike Lay­ton says his con­stituents ask about as he cam­paign for re-elec­tion.

“Some­how our new pre­mier has hi­jacked the City of Toronto elec­tion, not only by chang­ing the rules half­way through but all any­one wants to talk about when you’re at the door is his be­hav­iour,” he said. “They don’t ac­tu­ally want to talk about the is­sues so you’ve got to start there and then pivot over.”

Franklyn McFad­den, 31, said he’s dis­ap­pointed the de­bate has shifted away from the is­sues that af­fect peo­ple’s lives, such as pub­lic tran­sit.

“If I’m wait­ing at bus stop in my neigh­bour­hood at 5 p.m., there’s a good chance I’ ll be wait­ing for at least three buses that are jam-packed full be­fore I can even get my scooter on one of them,” said McFad­den, who uses a mo­bil­ity de­vice. “That’s just one of many, many is­sues that are be­ing left for the back burner.”

John Sewell, a former Toronto mayor who has crit­i­cized the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment’s un­prece­dented use of char­ter’s notwith­stand­ing clause to move slash the size of coun­cil in the mid­dle of an elec­tion, said the move could have long-last­ing con­se­quences.

“What Ford has done is sucked up all the oxy­gen,” he said. “It’s made sure that the elec­tion is mean­ing­less and that the coun­cil that will be pro­duced will have no cred­i­bil­ity at all, that’s the prob­lem.”

Sewell, who served as mayor in the late 1970s but re­mains in­volved in mu­nic­i­pal is­sues, said the con­flict be­tween the two lev­els of gov­ern­ment over the cut un­der­scores an­other trou­bling point — the lack of co-op­er­a­tion on key files, many of the same ones that are not be­ing dis­cussed dur­ing the cam­paign.

“You need that co-op­er­a­tion to ad­dress the larger ques­tions,” he said.

The Ford gov­ern­ment rein­tro­duced its coun­cil-cut­ting leg­is­la­tion this week af­ter a judge found the orig­i­nal law was un­con­sti­tu­tional. The Tories are also ap­peal­ing the judge’s de­ci­sion, and a hear­ing is sched­uled for Tues­day.

Amid the un­cer­tainty, vot­ers are ask­ing a lot of ques­tions about the elec­toral map, the rid­ing makeup and who the can­di­dates are, said Lay­ton.

“When you have 110,000 doors to knock on you have to make great use of your time,” he said. “When you have to spend the first five min­utes talk­ing about the chang­ing rules, and if you’re run­ning in that neigh­bour­hood or not ... that’s a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time.”

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Rod Phillips, who once served as former Toronto mayor Mel Last­man’s chief of staff, said those con­ver­sa­tions can still take place be­fore the Oct. 22 vote, not­ing that pro­vin­cial elec­tion cam­paigns are 30 days long.

“I have a lot of con­fi­dence that be­tween the many coun­cil can­di­dates and the may­oral can­di­dates that there will be a broad and ful­some dis­cus­sion of the is­sues.”

Ford, who is a former city coun­cil­lor, has said Toronto coun­cil is dys­func­tional and slash­ing it nearly in half will stream­line de­ci­sion-mak­ing and save tax­pay­ers $25 mil­lion. The city has ar­gued many of the chal­lenges Toronto is fac­ing are due to lack of fund­ing from the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments.

Mean­while, the of­fi­cial in charge of run­ning Toronto’s elec­tion has said it’s be­com­ing “vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble” to en­sure a fair vote next month.

Leg­is­la­tors will be called back to Queen’s Park on Satur­day at 1 p.m. to help speed up de­bate on the bill, dubbed the Ef­fi­cient Local Gov­ern­ment Act.

The New Democrats and the Lib­er­als have vowed to in­tro­duce amend­ments to the bill that could po­ten­tially de­lay its pas­sage.

The NDP said Thurs­day it will chal­lenge the bill un­der rules that pre­clude leg­is­la­tors from in­tro­duc­ing sub­stan­tially the same bill twice in one ses­sion and bar the leg­is­la­ture from de­bat­ing an item cur­rently be­fore the courts.

CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

On­tario Pre­mier Doug Ford ar­rives at the On­tario Leg­is­la­ture in Toronto on Thurs­day. On­tario’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment will hold a rare Satur­day sit­ting of the leg­is­la­ture to speed up pas­sage of a con­tro­ver­sial bill to slash the size of Toronto city coun­cil.

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