Thanks to David Miller’s dogged pursuit of a City of Toronto Act, Rob Ford can spend the next five months vowing to radically slim down council, from 44 to 22, in order to deliver on his election promise to become Toronto’s biggest loser.
According to sections 128 and 135 of the Act, which was passed in 2006 and updated this year, Toronto now enjoys the power to create or erase municipal wards, provided there are least five members of council. Presumably, Ford wants the new municipal wards to be co-terminus with Toronto’s 22 federal ridings.
The city’s municipal code is silent on how council would enact such a self-immolating reform, but the task seems exceptionally daunting: he has to round up at least 22 votes (plus his own), and those would need to be sourced from the subset of councillors who (i) agree with Ford’s position; and (ii) feel confident they could survive an electoral shoot-out with the new ward’s other incumbent.
After all, 22 sitting councillors need to back a motion that would potentially eliminate their own jobs. It’s like Russian roulette, except with worse odds.
Whether or not Ford has thought through the politics is unclear. His gambit, really, is to drink deeply from the well of voter dissatisfaction by plugging away at the hoary old allegation that Toronto is over-governed, and therefore profligate.
“People in Toronto are represented by 22 federal MPs and 22 provincial MPPs,” he stated at his launch [PDF] in March. “Even the public school system has 22 Trustees. Why do we need 44 councillors? Twenty-two fewer councillors will save the taxpayer at least $10 million each year, if not more [sic].”
The $10 million in savings is equivalent to a little more than one one thousandth of the gross budget, and could be wiped out by a slight spike in diesel fuel costs. Nor does Ford account for the fact that fewer politicians will almost certainly lead to larger councillor budgets and more demand for the city’s 311 call centre service. The net savings, in other words, will be less than $10 million.
Now what about Ford’s implication that Toronto is over-governed?
Certainly, the spectacle of lengthy but apparently unproductive council sessions (frequently featuring battles instigated by Ford himself) feeds the public’s impression of a city beset by inefficiency and waste.
True? Well, consider the numbers:
Toronto currently has just over 56,000 residents per councillor. Under Ford’s plan, that ratio jumps to almost 113,000.
How does that figure compare to the federal and provincial governments?
In Ontario, there are approximately 106,000 people per MPP. As for Ottawa, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government recently pledged to add 30 seats to the House of Commons, reducing its resident to MP ratio to 98,500.
As it happens, Toronto’s 44-member council is actually in the middle of the pack when compared to other GTA municipalities.
Mississauga councillors, on average, represent the largest number of constituents (over 66,000). But Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Caledon, Markham and Brampton all have significantly more municipal politicians per capita than Toronto (see table below).
Even the City of Ottawa, which was also amalgamated during the Mike Harris years, has 44% more councillors per resident than we do.
There’s no doubt that council is too often waylaid by fights over issues that have very little relevance in the grand scheme of things. But it doesn’t follow that fewer councillors will make the ship of state operate more efficiently.
Rather, fewer councillors almost certainly means less oversight. In fact, if Ford became mayor and managed to pull off his politically improbable council reduction scheme, Torontonians would have the dubious distinction of being Canada’s most mathematically under-represented inhabitants.
So for all those irate voters who’ve been bellowing that the city isn’t listening to their litany of complaints, I suggest they rest their vocal chords, because Rob Ford’s trimmed down council will be indisputably hard-of-hearing.
All figures below are drawn from municipal websites and Statistics Canada, with budget figures for fiscal 2010.
City of Toronto (amalgamated): 44 councillors
Pop. 2.48 million (56,340/councillor)
$9.2 billion operating ($3,710/resident)
$2.4 billion capital ($970/resident)
Region of Peel: 25 councillors
Pop. 1.24 million (49,600/councillor)
$1.1 billion operating budget ($890/resident)
$2.2 billion capital budget ($1,780/resident)
City of Mississauga: 11 councillors
Pop. 729,000 (66,300/councillor)
$550 million operating ($754/resident)
$320 million capital ($440/resident)
City of Brampton: 10 councillors
Pop. 434,000 (43,400/councillor)
$408 million operating ($940/resident)
$241 million capital ($555/resident)
Town of Caledon: 8 councillors
Pop. 57,080 (7,135/councillor)
$54 million ($1,000/resident)
$23 million ($400/resident)
York Region: 20 councillors
Pop. 1.03 million (51,600/councillor)
$1.4 billion operating ($1,360/resident)
$3.5 billion capital ($3,390/resident)
City of Vaughan: 8 councillors
Pop. 240,000 (30,000/councillor)
$205 million operating ($854/resident)
$50 million capital ($203/resident)
Town of Markham: 12 councillors
Pop. 303,000 (25,2500/councillor)
$154 million operating ($508/resident)
$78 million capital* ($254/resident)
* Excludes water works
Town of Richmond Hill: 8 councillors
Pop. 181,000 (22,625/councillor)
$117 million operating ($650/resident)
$22 million capital ($121/resident)
City of Ottawa (amalgamated): 23 councillors
Pop. 895,000 (38,900/councillor)
$2.3 billion operating ($2570/resident)
$624 million capital ($700/resident)