We probably should’ve seen it coming. Last Wednesday, at the inaugural city council meeting of the 2022-2026 term, John Tory’s final term as mayor of Toronto, he assured us, serious as a heart attack this time, he assured us, during his opening speech addressing the strong mayoral powers, parts one & deux, the first we knew about, it being provincially legislated during the municipal campaign earlier this year, the second, out of the blue, after the election had taken place, additional strong powers, still making their way through the legislative process at Queen’s Park in the form of Bill 39, additional strong powers that John Tory himself had secretly requested of Doug Ford, during the campaign and which he didn’t think necessary to reveal to the voting public until after he’d been re-elected. In fact, John Tory didn’t inform the public. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, did in taking questions from the press.
“My motives are pure!” Mayor Tory told his council colleagues during his speech, tapping into the chivalric code like some character in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Who says stuff like that? I noted at the time. I’ll tell you who. Someone whose motives aren’t pure. Anybody claiming to have pure motives is, in all likelihood, delusional or lying to your face.
Well, well, well. Come the next day, Thursday, when council got down to the nuts and bolts of dealing with city business, any sort of possible debate about the latest strong mayor bill had been put off until the next meeting in December. When Councillor Josh Matlow asked staff a question about Bill 39, Speaker Nunziata said he couldn’t because Bill 39 wasn’t on the meeting agenda. Her ruling was challenged by Councillor Gord Perks and put to a vote, and by the narrowest of margins, 13-12, the speaker’s ruling was upheld and any debate about Bill 39 was pushed back to December.
Near the end of the meeting, Speaker Nunziata, a slavish Tory devotee whose recent re-election bid was a nailbiter and leaned heavily on the mayor’s presence on the campaign trail to secure her the win, the latest of many dating back centuries it seems like, delivered up notice that the forthcoming staff report on the item concerning Bill 39, the bigger, better and even stronger mayor powers, the one council refused to debate earlier in the meeting, “may include proposed changes to the council procedures bylaw. Those changes require advance notice.” Speaker Nunziata had thus given advance notice.
Hello?! What was that again?
In response to this little tidbit of information from the speaker, Councillor Perks requested, since it appeared that Bill 39 would become law before city council met next on December 14th, making any council debate on it moot, mooter, irrelevant, irrelevanter, that Mayor Tory call a special meeting of city council to debate the bill. As mayor, even a non-strong one, Tory has that power at his disposal, to unilaterally call a special council meeting.
While not saying no to Councillor Perks’ request, Mayor Tory responded to it in a very, very curious way. Apparently, he had ‘zero information’.
What does that even mean?! ‘Zero information’!?
About what? Whether he could call a special meeting? (Yes, he can.) Whether Bill 39 would be passed before the December 14th council meeting? (In all likelihood, yes, given that it’s on the same legislative track as Bill 23 which somehow made it on to the agenda to be debated this week. The house at Queen’s Park is expected to pack it in for Christmas on December 8th, so one would imagine that, like Bill 23, Bill 39 isn’t going to be left as unfinished business.) To believe Mayor Tory has ‘zero information’ about any of that seems phantasmagorical, his motivations being pure or not. The alternative suggests a person so detached from reality that he would need help getting dressed in the morning.
Back in July, nearing the end of last council’s term, the mayor voted with the majority to bring Councillor Josh Matlow’s motion without notice, Taking a Stand for Toronto’s Local Democracy onto to the meeting’s agenda in response to Bill 3, the first strong mayor legislation introduced by the province. The item was adopted (with Mayor Tory’s support), part of which stated: ‘City Council affirms its position that any changes to Toronto’s local elections or its governance structure should be decisions made by Toronto’s City Council.’
And yet here we are with Bill 39, threatening to grant even further draconian powers to the mayor’s office, a change to governance, you might say, with no council input whatsoever. Except from Mayor Tory, of course.
What got deleted from Councillor Matlow’s original motion, by Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, now Mayor Tory’s official Deputy Mayor, is almost as interesting.
- City Council request the Province of Ontario not to implement a “Strong mayor” system in Toronto with legislation that includes a veto over the City’s budget, or other items before Council, or any other legislative measure that would grant additional mayoral powers over City affairs than what is already granted under the City of Toronto Act.
- City Council request the City Clerk to report to the first Council meeting of the next term on a governance structure that will enable the current model of mayoral powers under the City of Toronto Act, in relation to any changes to that Act or others.
Why was a request for a report to the first council meeting of the new term deleted from Council Matlow’s motion? Or the idea that the province not give ‘… additional mayoral powers over City affairs‘, deep-sixed? Additional mayoral powers’, you say? What additional mayoral powers? Nobody was talking about ‘additional mayoral powers’ back in July, were they? Were they, John Tory, who voted to adopt this motion in July last during the municipal election campaign.
The proposed Bill 39 is the stinking head of the rotting fish that was Bill 3 (given royal assent in September). None of it sits right. It’s undemocratic at its very core. Mayor Tory’s motivation with this is purely underhanded and duplicitous. Nothing short of him calling a special meeting to debate it will dispel the rank smell now cloaking him and his obvious machinations to amass even more undemocratic powers into the mayor’s office.