Fighting Doug Ford’s threat to shrink Toronto city council

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes an announcement at Queen’s Park on Friday, July 27, 2018 about significantly reducing the number of Toronto city councillors just months before the fall municipal election.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Samuel E. Trosow, Western University

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s plan to cut Toronto’s city council from 47 to 25 wards, and to cancel regional elections outside of Toronto, has attracted strong opposition. It threatens to create what critics call a state of “civic chaos” because, if passed, The Better Local Government Act would take effect before the upcoming municipal election this October.

Most council candidates who have been campaigning since May 1 must now decide if they want to risk starting over and running in a different area. They would have until Sept. 14 to decide, but this new deadline gives the City Clerk precious little time to ensure an orderly election process before advance polls open on Oct. 6.

The severity and timing of the proposed changes cries out for a legal remedy.

Ford is invoking the province’s broad powers over municipalities in a manner that tramples on fundamental principles of fairness, reasonable notice and the right to effective representation.

Province’s powers not unlimited

Section 92(8) of the 1867 Constitution gives provinces jurisdiction over “municipal institutions in the province.” Under this authority, Ontario has enacted the Municipal Act, the Municipal Elections Act and the City of Toronto Act regulating local governance, elections and ward structure.

It’s often said that “municipalities are creatures of the province,” so provincial control may seem unlimited. This point was emphasized in East York (Borough) v. Ontario, which upheld the amalgamation in 1997 of six cities into what is now Toronto.

Many still say that for better or worse, the province has total control over city processes and there is no point in fighting it. But the situation is very different today, and the amalgamation case was based on an extensive multi-year process.

Governments in Canada are subject to limits on what they can do, most notably as provided in the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the Charter era, provincial laws can be reviewed and invalidated if they violate Charter rights and aren’t demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

The Charter and related principles act as a check on the power of governments to act. Even within their established areas of jurisdiction, Charter values can put the brakes to a government’s ability to act in an unrestrained and unreasonable manner.

How are boundaries changed?

Ontario’s Municipal Act and the City of Toronto Act establish how ward boundaries can be changed. A city council can initiate a change, which can then be appealed by an objector.

This occurred when Toronto council decided to go from 44 to 47 wards following a multi-year process supported by extensive background research and consultation.

Toronto Mayor John Tory speaks to the media at Toronto City Hall on July 27, 2018 after Ford’s bombshell announcement. Tory called the plans to shrink city council ‘absolutely not right’ at the news conference.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Council’s intent was to promote “effective representation” by creating three new downtown wards in order to equalize the voting strength of downtown and suburban voters, which had become distorted because of existing and projected population growth.

An appeal was filed by objectors wanting to reduce the wards from 44 to 25. After reviewing extensive evidence, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) upheld the city’s position. The objectors then sought leave to appeal to Divisional Court, but their motion was denied .

The board’s decision was issued in December 2017, in time to take effect for the 2018 election, and the City Clerk began preparations based on the newly approved 47-ward map.

In upholding the additional three wards, the board applied the “Carter criteria” (established in a 1991 Supreme Court of Canada decision) and in doing so, it explicitly rejected the 25-ward map that Ford now proposes.

While a challenge to Ford’s plan will not be bound by this OMB ruling, it would be persuasive, especially since the board relied on an extensive record. The OMB heard testimony from several expert witnesses over a seven-day hearing, and the city’s evidence included several reports based on numerous public meetings and information sessions.

Do wards serve larger public interest?

In evaluating the effectiveness of representation, the “Carter criteria” looks at whether the wards respect identifiable communities of interest, and whether they serve the larger public interest of all affected residents rather than just a small group.

In applying these criteria to the 47-ward proposal, the OMB ruled: “Effective representation is the primary goal and the board finds that the 47-ward structure, reflected in the bylaws, does achieve that goal.”

In a Toronto Star report, York University environmental studies Prof. Roger Keil stated:

“This is gerrymandering: Changing political boundaries in order to favour the party in power. It is a very blatant attempt to change the rules of the game so the opposition can’t win … What’s happening in Toronto right now … is an attempt to bring the old elites back into the seat of power and have them remain there.”

McMaster political scientists Rachel Barnett and Karen Bird observe that “visible minorities tend to have reduced voting power at the municipal level,” a point already being echoed by current Toronto council candidates.

Harmful to provincial-municipal relations

There have been steady improvements in provincial-municipal relations as local governments were granted broader powers and greater autonomy. The new Municipal Act of 2001 gave cities greater powers than they had under the old act and this trend continued with the 2006 City of Toronto Act.

Other amendments gave municipalities more powers over the environment, affordable housing, zoning appeals and council transparency and integrity.

Ford is reversing this trend, signalling the regression to centralized provincial control over municipalities. This is a setback to provincial-municipal cooperation, and it threatens to chill innovative local decision-making across the province.

Read more:
Ford Nation rises again: What Doug Ford means for Ontario

This poorly timed interference with established evidence-based ward review mechanisms lacks any reasonable justification.

Coming midway through the election period, it penalizes candidates who started campaigning in adherence to the existing law, and it unreasonably burdens the City Clerk’s office. It also deprives many residents of their right to effective representation, which they hold under well-established legal principles.

Despite the old maxim that “cities are a creature of the province,” the government cannot act in such an arbitrary, discriminatory and unjustified manner in the post-Charter era.

The ConversationHopefully, elected provincial MPPs will think better of this ill-advised measure and withdraw or quickly defeat the bill. But if not, legal action needs to be launched to stop it. The challenge will face serious hurdles, but the stakes are too high not to try.

Samuel E. Trosow, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law and Faculty of Information & Media Studies, Western University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Traffic congestion in rural Ethiopia

In December 2017 I was lucky enough to visit Ethiopia with work to facilitate some training. It was an amazing experience.

This was a bit of traffic congestion we encountered on the road back from Sodo Wolaita going back to Addis Ababa.





Between May 23rd and May 26th 2017 at the Dalhousie University Agricultural Campus in Truro.


Between March 11th and 15th 2017 I attended the NASPA Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

Due to a storm in Montreal, on the Tuesday, our flight back to Canada on Wednesday after the conference was cancelled and we didn’t leave Texas until Friday 17th. Our new route home was via Newark airport so we did get a bonus view of New York from the air.

This was my first US Student Affairs conference and the biggest conference I have ever been to. There were 7,000 attendees and the keynote speaker was Anderson Cooper of CNN fame.

I went to some great sessions and learnt a lot of what is happening within Student Affairs across the continent. It was useful to see an alignment between the best practices showcased and the work we are doing on a strategic level in our own institution.

It is not the most sociable of events as there are just so many people there but I enjoyed the Canadian reception and I did meet some interesting new people. It was a great chance to get to know my work colleagues better too. To ensure we made the most of our trip we shared our notes with our colleagues who did not attend and posted them on OneDrive.

Below are a few photos and above is the sunset from my hotel window.


The Shock Doctrine

I am starting to think that just like Naomi Klein outlines in The Shock Doctrine, the “shock” of the EU referendum in the UK is being exploited by the establishment in cahoots with the right wing of the Labour Party to generate a leadership crisis. The last thing the British establishment wants on its hands is an anti-austerity leader of the Labour Party who could become Prime Minister and start undoing some of the neo-liberal policies being pursued in the UK.

The last thing the British people need is an opposition fighting among themselves rather than taking aim at the government.




Matthew GuyHot on the heels of #aacuss16 from the Atlantic Association of College and University Student Services (of which I am the current President) I am off to the cacuss16 conference of the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services.

Although I have been to six AACUSS conferences, this will be my first CACUSS.

Contact me at #cacuss16

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In May 2016 I attended my sixth AACUSS conference at UNB Fredericton. Another amazing event and this time I was attending as President of the Association.

Here is a selfie video I shot this afternoon on my return. Below is the Twitter feed from the conference.

My video inviting Student Services professionals to #aacuss17 and thanking #aacuss16 team.

A video posted by Matthew Guy (@mguy) on

London Calling

I am an Englishman and a Canadian. I lived in England for my first 38 years and Canada for the last nine. Our children were born in Canada and had never been to the UK, they had not met some of the family and had never even been on a plane.

We decided some time ago it was important for our boys to have some experiences we relished as children as well as visiting friends and relatives we talk to and about and have Skyped with in the past.

We knew it would not be cheap. Flights for four are… guess what… four times more expensive than flights for one – and my last three flights to the UK were paid for to attend or speak at events in London. We saved up and at times had to ignore the absolute craziness of some of the costs (“the hotel in London is how much? An extra $40 night for a Thames view… why not.. it is daft money anyway”).

So we saved, we got passports sorted for the boys (and a Canadian one for my husband) and we headed to the UK in July this year.

We had the most amazing time. We tried to do too much and failed to achieve a couple of things from our list but it was a great experience for all of us.

Harry Leslie Smith in Halifax

When I heard that Harry Leslie Smith would be in Halifax on July 15th I was determined to be there. If you have not heard of him, I recommend this video from the 2014 Labour Party conference in the UK.

There are not many people I will endure a two hour drive getting home at 11:30pm for but I guess there are not going to be that many times that Canada’s oldest rebel will be able to travel across the country. The event, called the Stand up for Progress Tour was organized by the Broadbent Institute and was visiting a number of cities in Canada.

Here are a few photographs I took, click for bigger versions.

There was a panel discussion following Harry’s talk which included:

A few questions were taken from the audience but despite a plea from Costas, very few kept their contributions short, and as usual some speeches were given instead of questions asked.

There were some great tweets from the event too:

I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting which helped to remind me why I am involved in politics and why it does matter to people’s lives.


Local Prosperity Conference

Stephen McNeil at Local Prosperity Conference
Nova Scotia Premier, Stephen McNeil spoke briefly Saturday morning

Sometime in the fall of 2014 I heard about a “Local Prosperity” conference to take place in Annapolis Royal in April 2015. It sounded really interesting and I thought I would like to be involved in some capacity. I filled in the form on the website and offered to volunteer. Apparently I was quite quick off the mark and after a phone chat with one of the organizers I was asked to coordinate the other volunteers for the event.

It was an ambitious event. Take a few hundred people to a small town in rural Nova Scotia and add a large number of speakers and panelists from near and far and try to pull off a successful conference. Oh and by the way, we will do it in a recently closed school which has had much of the furniture and other equipment removed. On top of just organizing the conference, many of the sessions were going to be recorded on video, and all were going to have audio recordings made too.

There were times when I worried if the organizers would be able to pull off such a feat – were they being too ambitious? The team effort was amazing though. The logistics coordinator was fantastic and she also recruited many of the volunteers for me. I also twisted a few arms of people I knew to help out in volunteer roles. Chairs and tables had been rented, projectors and laptops borrowed, audio equipment rented and professional videographers agreed to come and film parts of the conference. It was truly a community effort. Coffee and tea for breaks was provided by a local caterer – as were the sandwiches for lunchtime. When we needed a spotlight as the stage was too dark, one was borrowed from the King’s Theatre which is just down the road.

I sometimes experience “volunteer’s remorse” and hit a certain moment when I think “why did I volunteer to do this? I don’t have time. I could be asleep, eating, watching TV or anything else instead”. I hit this moment about two weeks from the event. Luckily that passes fairly quickly and when you get in the middle of an event it is exciting, enjoyable and you get to meet so many lovely people. This event was no different.

The speakers and delegates were amazing. Engaging, friendly, polite and really impressed with what we had managed to achieve. On the last day so many people came into our office to thank the volunteers for making the conference run so smoothly. That was very gratifying to hear.

As well as being a smoothly run event it was also fascinating and allowed for a great deal of knowledge exchange. I have included below some of my photographs but you can also watch some of the keynote speeches and see some of the slides on the Local Prosperity Website.