By Rocco K. Achampong
Eight is greater than seven, and that includes judges in number when deciding on a case. If one recalls the year 2018, three quarters of the way through municipal elections in the province of Ontario, Toronto was singled out for reduction in the number of councillors from 47 to 25. The cut was done abruptly and without notice. The result was a constitutional crisis, with the Premier threatening and introducing a Bill in the legislature invoking the notwithstanding clause for the first time in Ontario history. As a society, we were wading into unchartered provincial waters. The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) in a ruling released on October 1st, 2021 ended the uncertainty.
Local democratic government is the most personal and direct when compared to our provincial and federal way of governing. It is the call a citizen makes when he/she is concerned with speed limits on a residential road or a school zone, when potholes litter minor arterials, when garbage collection in a neighbourhood is lacking, or parks and recreation for residents are wanting. It is local democracy, or municipal government, that is the first stop on a citizen’s quest to seek redress on matters of local and private import. And, in that respect, municipal government allows for the most “effective representation”, or to put it another way, representation is more effective at the municipal level. One reason to account for that effectiveness is access.
Prior to the gutting of Toronto City Council, local councillors were elected in wards with population levels that allowed the greatest number of persons to access their councillor. After the gutting of Toronto City Council, the population size within wards parallel the electoral districts of the provincial and federal government, thus limiting the number of persons that can access a councillor due to the increased population size that is now represented. In short, councillors, on account of the 2018 decision, are now less effective, even with increased budgets and staff, than at any time in the history of Toronto.
Surely, one may suggest quite rightly that more politicians are never the solution to any problem, and one might find in me an empath of that position. However, if one were to consider the representation available to residents of other municipalities, it quickly becomes clear that Toronto’s municipal government is no longer local and private, but far removed from the residents in whose interest it is constituted.
Let us take the electoral district of Leeds-Grenville, of which our current minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is local MPP Steve Clark. Minister Clark is a clear eyed and serious individual whose competence is reflected in the duration of his tenure in his ministry. As minister responsible for the gutting of Toronto city council, he made the case that efficiencies would result in lessening the number of councillors in our local deliberative body, not only quantifiable in dollars but in process as well. What he failed to disclose is that his specific electoral district has a population of sixty nine thousand people, significantly less than the estimated three million residents of Toronto—yet, Leeds and Grenville has about ten mayors and about ninety councillors—for sixty nine thousand people!
Ask yourself, who has greater access to their representative—the resident of Leeds and Grenville, or a resident of Toronto? Three million accessing twenty five Toronto, sixty nine thousand accessing over ninety councillors in Leeds and Grenville. Clearly one group of residents has a qualitatively better democratic system of governance than the other, and it is not Toronto.
Bringing us back to why eight is greater than seven. And, that is because eight judges in Ontario and Canada agreed that diminishing the quality of Toronto’s local democracy was entirely constitutional; seven judges disagreed.
We lost by one vote. And, in the opinion of this writer, Toronto v. Ontario re: council cuts was wrongly decided.