Fraser Forum

Toronto City Council reduction—a distraction from greater priorities

Printer-friendly version

Ontario’s Ford government recently announced legislation aiming to cut the number of Toronto city councillors by half, citing reduction of the “size and cost of government” as the legislation’s primary motivation.

But in reality, this move distracts from other provincial and municipal priorities, and ultimately won’t do much to help Torontonians. Here’s why.

Reducing Toronto City Council from 47 to 25 seats does very little, relatively speaking, to save Torontonians money. In its statement, Queen’s Park claims this move will save the city $25.5 million over four years. For context, Toronto’s 2018 operating budget is $11.12 billion. The reported savings earned from reducing the size of council, therefore, represent approximately one-fifth of one per cent of Toronto’s annual budget—or one-twentieth of one per cent if these savings are divided annually.

Put differently, these savings represent only $2.33 per Torontonian per year. Clearly, while this move might send a signal about Queen’s Park’s approach to fiscal discipline, it distracts from other, more serious issues.

Namely, Toronto is still struggling with the legacy of its 1998 amalgamation (between old Toronto, Scarborough, Etobicoke, York, North York, East York and Metro Toronto). According to the provincial government of the time, merging local governments, while simultaneously reducing the number of elected officials in these governments (one important piece of legislation in this process was named the “Fewer Municipal Politicians Act”), would generate economies of scale, ultimately saving taxpayer money.

Such benefits did not materialize.

Rather than generating efficiencies, Toronto’s amalgamation ushered in a period of increased spending on important services such as fire protection, garbage collection, and parks and recreation.

It’s understandable—and perhaps laudable—that Premier Ford wants to make local governments more efficient. However, shrinking Toronto City Council is not a good way to achieve this goal, especially as Toronto continues to struggle with the legacy of amalgamation.