Hundreds rally at Queen’s Park to protest Doug Ford’s Toronto plans
Buoyed by creative signs, chanting, and backing from NDP leader Andrea Horwath, hundreds of angry protesters gathered in the Legislature galleries, before filing out onto the south lawn of Queen’s Park Thursday to protest plans Premier Doug Ford said he would make to cut Toronto’s city council nearly in half.
“We are here today to stand together against Doug Ford’s plan to steal power away from the people of Toronto,” Horwath told the crowd.
One visitor, Mary Hynes, who was in the gallery during question period yelled, “We deserve a better government, we deserve to be heard. [Doug Ford] is not representing any of us.” They were words which were met by applause from members of the opposition party before she was escorted out by security.
She later told Humber News she spoke up this morning because she wants the Ford government to acknowledge that she and other Ontarians aren’t happy with what his PC government has been doing.
“They keep saying that they’re respecting taxpayers and that people all like what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s not something I’ve noticed, and I know it’s something other people haven’t noticed either.”
Concerned citizens started arriving as early as 9 a.m. to pack the Legislature’s gallery during Question Period. By 10 a.m., they had formed a lineup down the street and around the corner.
Over 400 people are lined up to get into Queen’s Park to tell Doug Ford they don’t support his interference in Toronto’s elections and attempt to run Toronto from Queen’s Park pic.twitter.com/NjSSc5lmSi
— Progress Toronto (@progresstoronto) August 2, 2018
Many who gathered on the lawn of Queen’s Park were there for what Horwath called “a democracy rally,” which she had helped organze in light of Ford’s announced plans to cut the number of elected officials at city hall to 25 from 47 last week.
The plan to cut the number of councillors comes just a few months before the Oct. 22 municipal election.
The measure is part of what the Ontario Progressive Conservative party are calling “Better Local Government Act” (Bill 5).
Last week, Ford said he implemented legislation because council “failed to act on the critical issues facing the city,” calling it the “most dysfunctional political arena” in the country.
“It will only get worse if Toronto city council grows from 44 to 47 politicians,” Ford said. “People care about getting things done, they don’t care about politicians.”
Ford said reducing the size of government was a core message of his run when asked why he didn’t include this plan in his campaign messaging during the provincial election.
If council is reduced to 25 councillors, it would mean that each councillor would represent on average 110,000 residents. In a release, the province said it would save the city some $25 million over four years, a figure equivalent to a fraction of one per cent of the city’s total operating budget.
The move, some political strategists add, might also lend more power to the mayor.
The implemented bill was swiftly shot down by Toronto Mayor John Tory and other local leaders when it was announced last week, as well as thousands of residents who showed up for a protest at Nathan Phillips Square two weeks ago.
“Don’t change rules”
During his own morning news conference at city hall last week, Tory accused Ford of “meddling” with the city’s affairs, and said the premier should not be interfering as hundreds of people have begun campaigning and fundraising for a vote that is fewer than three months away.
“You just don’t change the rules in the middle of the game,” Tory said.
He then attacked Ford for ignoring his campaign promise to govern “for the people,” noting nobody in Toronto had a chance to hear about these plans of his.
“Don’t they deserve a say in how they’re governed?” Tory asked.
He said specific details around the plan of reducing the size of council had not come up in any conversations he has had with Ford since the Progressive Conservatives formed the government following the June election, apart from the “passing mention” of reducing council’s size that Tory did not interpret as being a serious suggestion.
Ford, however, pushed back on Tory’s assertion that the city did not know any of the province’s intentions.
“I had a conversation with the mayor a week and a half, two weeks ago. I can tell you one thing, I didn’t see this reaction when I gave him this idea, this proposal,” Ford said.
“Not only did we speak to him once, we consulted numerous times — our staff — and we never had this reaction…I’m not too sure where the mayor’s going with this. He knows less politicians is good,” he said.
The issue came to a head last week during an exchange between the mayor and Councillor Mike Layton, who accused the mayor of having advanced knowledge of the move.
Some progressive councillors continued to characterize Ford’s move as an abuse of power and an attack on local democracy that would create chaos before the election, while other factions at city hall welcomed the idea as long overdue.
The move by Ford comes amid a nomination period that has been underway since May that has now been extended to Sept. 14 from an initial closing of last Friday at 2 p.m.
“King of Ontario”
As for those who weren’t able to score a seat inside Queen’s Park legislature, they waited patiently outside for Horwath to hold a press conference on the front lawn.
Horwath, who strongly criticized the Ford government’s plan when it was first revealed, once again blasted the premier, calling him a “dictator” who “thinks he is the king of Ontario.”
“Rejections that Mr. Ford has had by the people of the City of Toronto aren’t sitting well with him,” Horwath told the gathered crowd shortly after noon. “And so, by edict here, he’s going to try to grab that power that he couldn’t get in the democratic way.”
The audience exploded briefly with cries of “Shame! Shame!”, “Dirty Doug!” and “Whose city? Our city!” before Horwath continued.
Horwath acknowledged she sympathizes with some voters who she says are concerned the premier’s decision was motivated by his desire to “settle past political scores.”
“Instead, he’s going to grab that power from the Premier’s chair,” she said. “A complete abuse of power is what we’re talking about.”
Ward size increases
The potential changes to city council echo a move Ford tried to make during his time on city council while his brother, the late Rob Ford, was mayor. The duo fought for shrinking council to 25 seats but their proposal was shot down in a vote in 2013.
Mayor Rob Ford tried, unsuccessfully, to shrink the size of council in 2013. This just reeks of Doug trying to fulfill his late brother’s mandate, which is a pretty dumb way to run a government. https://t.co/9gnrJXQwVs
— Robyn Urback (@RobynUrback) July 27, 2018
The premier’s new proposal follows, instead, the recent expansion of the city’s council. Toronto completed a years-long consultation and review process that increased the number of wards to 47 from 44 for the upcoming vote.
Tory signalled early on in the process that he did not, in fact, support an expansion in the number of councillors, but he accepted the outcome.
More councillors, representation
For residents of the GTA, the current news of shrinking city council has been disruptive to say the least.
Miriam Palmer, a Toronto high school student, said Toronto should have 47 councillors so that the change to increase the number of wards will be representative of the rest of Toronto.
“Going back to 25 councillors does nothing but increase the downtown-suburbs divide and that’s something we really want to unify right now,” Palmer said. “That’s the point of supporting councillors.
“It’s that it’s more representative,” she said. “In the 25-ward model, we have a suburb-dominant model, and that’s simply not fair.”
For Enrique Moran, a York University student, his concerns about the future of the city and representation are a result of shortsighted thinking from the Ontario premier.
“It’s shameful and chaotic. As someone that has been living in Toronto for a while, I can’t agree with this,” Moran said.
“They want to impose this, and they don’t want to consult with anyone,” he said. “He’s messing with social services and school repairs and mental health, and it really affects me and other Ontarians.
“He needs to do what’s right for Ontario; not what’s right for him,” Moran said.
MPPs were scheduled to debate the controversial motion at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, and the public was once again invited into the gallery as they considered the implications of Bill 5.