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Toronto's new City Council, six months later – how's it going?

It's been an eventful week – massive provincial announcements aside, my team and I met with three different communities in Don Valley North to discuss playground renewal projects and school traffic safety proposals. We also welcomed the curious and brilliant Grade 5 students of Arbor Glen Public School to discuss how City Hall works – and let me tell you, if those students are any indication, the future of Toronto is in good hands!

The Grade 5 students of Arbor Glen P.S visiting City Hall earlier this week

Speaking of the future of our City – earlier this week, I joined my colleague Councillor Stephen Holyday on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin. Steve added Gabriel Eidelman, an Assistant Professor at the Munk School's Global Affairs and Public Policy program. Together, we discussed how Toronto’s governance system has been impacted six months after the major changes imposed on us by the new provincial government.

I'm going to expand on our discussion, but if you missed the program you can tune in here:

On The Agenda discussing the impact of our downsized City Council

What's changed?

So, what has changed? The short answer is that councillors are a lot busier now. Most of us have double the number of constituents to serve and more committee assignments at City Hall. On the surface that may not seem like a bad thing, and there's no argument that with fewer members Council and committee meetings go by much quicker now.

But the impact of downsizing City Council goes beyond simple efficiencies. It boils down to representation and the level of access you have to your councillor.

The Premier's thinking is that a councillor's job is the same as an MPP or MP's, but it's fundamentally different – we deliver the hard services you use every day. That's why it's been a huge adjustment to go from serving 60,000 to over 120,000 residents. Monitoring the increased load of city facilities, agencies, subway stops and city repair projects has been a challenge.

These are just a handful of the many core services your councillor delivers

Looking ahead

The silver lining is that Torontonians are finally talking about how much representation matters on the municipal level.

Tomorrow morning, Councillor Holyday will Chair a meeting of the Special Governance Committee, of which I am a member. Our mandate is to take public input on methods to refine and improve the hastily-formed 25 member structure. We will receive a draft work plan from City Staff proposing a way to complete our task over the course of three more meetings by November 2019.

The first time this Committee met in February, Chair Holyday invited citizens to present their ideas about what we ought to focus on. There were a surprising number of speakers who came to request that we look at election and campaign finance reforms to remove the huge advantage incumbents have. There are well-founded concerns about fairness in future super-ward elections like the last one

I met with residents to discuss traffic safety at Arbor Glen P.S. It's important to me to have frequent meetings like this one so you feel heard and well-represented

Now, I am an incumbent but I believe you should only ever be re-elected for doing a good job. That's why making an effort to remove incumbent advantage shouldn't be a concern to any hard-working councillor.

I’ll be pushing hard tomorrow morning for the Special Governance Committee to dedicate a portion of its work to reforms such as ranked balloting, similar to San Francisco, and fundraising grants like the ones used in New York City elections. Community members have been asking for changes like these for many years now. You can take a look at a review of governance suggestions presented by Toronto residents here.

I'm pretty certain we won’t achieve the perfect model of governance in just three more Committee meetings – but we owe it to the residents of Toronto to finally take a serious look.


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