Turning Doug Ford’s Attack on Toronto into a Movement for Democratic Renewal

Photo by CTV Toronto

An open letter about Bill 5 Better Local Government Act

We, the undersigned group of scholars and teachers, deplore the autocratic and arbitrary reduction of ward representation for Toronto city council contained in Bill 5 being rushed through the Ontario Legislature by the just-elected Doug Ford-led Conservative provincial government.

There are numerous problems with this initiative – both in terms of policy and process – that cannot be squared with democratic values or procedures.

As policy, reducing the number of city councilors will not make for better representation or government or cost reductions for the city, as the Ford government claims. Indeed, as we saw with a similar cynical reduction of MPPs by a previous Conservative government, reducing the number of politicians did not lead to any cost savings, but merely shifted where money was spent in a poor and half-hearted attempt to respond to constituent demands, and had the effect of weakening local influence and centralizing more power at Queen’s Park and the Premier’s Office.

As policy, reducing the number of city councilors will weaken the democratic representation and advocacy roles so crucial to local government. Fewer wards mean that many more people will be trying to get the attention of fewer politicians. Far from increasing accountability, this will have the effect of insulating politicians from public pressure as bigger wards mean increased costs to run for office and politicians that will be indebted to those who can fund their campaigns. Meanwhile, local citizens will find it much harder to organize a grassroots campaign in these larger wards.

As policy, reducing the number of city councilors will make it harder to have a council that truly reflects the economic and social diversity of the city, as all research on representation shows that winner take all voting systems combined with large riding sizes tend to benefit the most established and powerful groups in society (i.e. wealthy white males) and fail to reflect the class, gender, ethnic and racial diversity of the community.

As process, it is conventional to signal the desirability of such reforms in the campaign period for provincial office, rather than announcing it after the election when voters now have no ability to consider it in casting their vote.

As process, it is conventional to take input on such proposed changes from the institutional representatives and voters that will be affected by the changes and develop an interactive policy approach that operates on realistic timelines to gain, respond, and act on such input, rather than ram through arbitrary changes just months before they need to be put into practice.

As process, it is conventional for governments elected under the first-past-the-post electoral system, particularly those that have gained a majority of seats but only a minority of the popular vote, to act with caution in taking up divisive policy issues, especially when such issues touch on the democratic rules of the game themselves. To radically alter the representational structure of another level of government, without warning and without input from said government or its electorate, is clearly an abuse of the power that the first-past-the-post voting system grants to legislative majority governments.

At this point, it would be fruitless to demand that the Ford Conservative government reverse its actions on this issue as the government has made it clear by its actions and stated public rationales that its ‘reforms’ are, like their ‘austerity’ agenda, ideological in nature, scope and objectives and, as such, not subject to reasoned, informed, evidence-based discussion or deliberation or non-partisan considerations of the public good or fair play. As with conservative movements across western countries, the point of such efforts is to weaken the already shallow substance of democratic representation, deliberation and accountability in favour of strengthening the power of those with substantial wealth.

However, armed with evidence-based insights about these attacks on democracy at both the procedural and institutional levels, we can recommend specific political reforms to help reverse and prevent such undemocratic initiatives in the future. As such we call on citizens, organized groups in civil society, and the key Ontario opposition parties to support the introduction of the following reforms:

  1. The immediate introduction of a proportional voting system for provincial elections. The results of the 2018 Ontario provincial election and the subsequent actions by the Ford Conservative government demonstrate clearly why the first-past-the-post voting system is a danger to the survival of democracy itself. Conservative governments are increasingly demonstrating their willingness to abuse the democratic trust that is required for FPTP to operate. With just 40% of the popular vote, the Ford Conservatives are pushing through a host of policies that a majority of Ontarians clearly oppose, and they are doing so in a manner that prevents that opposition from organizing and bringing pressure to bear on the government. The opposition parties in Ontario should declare their commitment now to introduce PR after the next election, if they are elected.

  2. The establishment of a legitimate public consultative process to determine the proper levels of representation for the city of Toronto, as well as other reforms of governance (like the introduction of a proportional voting system for the city), with a commitment by the provincial government to act on them.

  3. A removal of the ban on political parties or slates running for municipal office in Toronto. As research clearly demonstrates that an absence of organized groups at the local level is the key barrier to people running for and participating in local politics, this politically-motivated restriction should be repealed.

  4. Establish a Citizens’ Assembly to rethink the role and purpose of local government, including ways to rebalance the influence between the provincial and local levels, and between property developers, ratepayers and tenants.

Authored by:

Dennis Pilon, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, York 
Roger Keil, Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York
Bryan Evans, Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson
Greg Albo, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, York


Endorsed by:

Nadia Abu-Zahra, Associate Professor International Development University of Ottawa

Christo Aivalis, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of History, University of Toronto

Patricia Albanese, Professor, Dept of Sociology, Ryerson University

Ahmed Allahwala, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Human Geography, UTSC

Sabah Alnaseri, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, York

Miriam Anderson, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University

Caroline Andrew, Centre on Governance, University of Ottawa

Sedef Arat-Koc, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University

Hugh Armstrong, Professor Emeritus, Carleton University

Ian Balfour, Professor, Dept. of English, York University

Rachel Barken, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Sociology, York University

Deborah Barndt, Professor Emerita, York University

Tim Bartkiw, Associate Professor, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University

Ranu Basu, Associate Professor, Geography, York University

Shyon Baumann, University of Toronto

Ray Bazowski, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, York

William Bedford, PhD Candidate, FES, York University

Andrew Biro, Professor, Department of Politics, Acadia University

Simon Black, Assistant Professor of Labour Studies, Brock University

Niko Block, author and Graduate Studies, Department of Politics, York University

Nicholas Blomley, Professor of Geography, Simon Fraser University

Larry S. Bourne FRSC FCIP, Professor emeritus, University of Toronto

Susan Braedley, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Carleton

Linda Briskin, Professor Emeritus, Social Science Department York University

Deborah Brock, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University

Susannah Bunce, Associate Professor, Department of Human Geography, University of Toronto Scarborough

Bill Burns Adjunct Faculty Graduate Studies, York University

Nergis Canefe, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and the School of Public Policy, York

John Carlaw, Graduate Research Fellow, Centre for Refugee Studies, York University

Jenny Carson, Associate Professor, Department of History, Ryerson University

Jon Caulfield, Senior Scholar, Urban Studies Program, York University

Chris Chapman, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, York University

Soma Chatterjee, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, York University

Cara Chellew, Research Administrator, Major Collaborative Research Project Global Suburbanisms, York University

Sheila Colla, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York

George Comninel, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, York

Creighton Connolly, Postdoctoral fellow, National University of Singapore

Rosemary J. Coombe, Senior Canada Research Chair in Law, Communication and Culture, York University

Matt Corbeil PhD Candidate York University

Deborah Cowen, Professor, Department of Geography & Planning, University of Toronto

Cathy Crowe, Distinguished Visiting Practitioner, Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University

Simon Dalby, Professor, School of International Policy and Governance, Wilfrid Laurier University

David B. Dewitt, Professor, Department of Politics, York

Don Dippo, Professor, Faculty of Education, York University

Stephan Dobson, Contract Faculty, Dept. of Social Science, York University

Daniel Drache, Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics, York

Lisa Drummond, Associate Professor, Urban Studies, Dept of Social Science, York University

Robert J. Drummond, Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics, York

Geneviève A. Dumas, Professor Emerita, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Queen’s University

Michael Ekers, Assistant Professor, Department of Human Geography, University of Toronto, Scarborough

Theresa Enright, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto

Lorna Erwin, Associate Professor, Sociology, York University

Fay Faraday, Assistant Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York

Steven Farber, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Scarborough

Dena Farsad, PhD Candidate, York University

Leesa Fawcett, Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Jennifer Foster, Associate Professor, York University

Liette Gilbert, Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Sam Gindin Graduate Faculty York University

Jill Glessing, Continuing Education, Ryerson University

Luin Goldring, Professor, Sociology, York University

Kanishka Goonewardena, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto

John Greyson, video/filmmaker, Toronto

Sean Grisdale, PhD Student in the Geography Department at the University of Toronto

Shubhra Gururani, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, York University

Oded Haas, PhD Candidate, York University

Ratiba Hadj-Moussa, Professor, Department of Sociology, York University

Laam Hae, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, York

Paul A. Hamel, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto

Pierre Hamel, Sociology, University of Montreal

Rebecca Hall, Assistant Professor, Development Studies, Queen’s University

Bob Hanke Adjunct Faculty Department of Communication Studies York University

Judy Hellman, Professor Emerita, Departments of Social Science and Politics, York

Stephen Hellman, Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics, York

Jordan House, Phd Candidate, Department of Politics, York University

Johanna Householder, Professor, Faculty of Art, OCAD University

Jennifer Hyndman, Professor and Director, Centre for Refugees Studies, York University

Susan Ingram, Associate Professor, Dept of Humanities, York University

Adrian Ivakhiv, Steven Rubenstein Professor of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont

Les Jacobs, Professor, Department of Social Science, York

William Jenkins, Associate Professor, Geography, York University

Josee Johnston, University of Toronto

Ilan Kapoor, Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Ali Kazimi, Associate Professor, Department of Cinema & Media Arts, York University

Matthew Kellway, PhD candidate, Department of Politics, York University

Ryan Kelpin, PhD candidate, Department of Politics, York University

Azam Khatam, PhD., Instructor at York University, Disaster and Emergency Management program

Loren King, Associate Professor of Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University

Stefan Kipfer, Associate Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Margaret Kohn, University of Toronto

Abidin Kusno, Professor, Environmental Studies, York University

Hannes Lacher, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, York

Danielle Landry Lecturer, School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University

Robert Latham, Professor, Department of Politics, York

Nicole Latulippe, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto Scarborough

Ute Lehrer, Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Nina Levitt, Associate Professor, Department of Visual Art & Art History

Steven Logan, University of Toronto Mississauga

Brenda Longfellow, Associate Professor, Department of Cinema and Media Arts, York University

Stephen Longstaff, Professor Emeritus, Sociology, York University

Meg Luxton, Professor, Women’s Studies, York University

Lucy Lynch, Project Coordinator, MCRI Global Suburbanisms, York University

Margaret MacDonald, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, York University

Sara Macdonald, Phd candidate, Utrecht University

Heather MacRae, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, York

Rianne Mahon, CIGI Chair and Professor, Balsillie School of International Affairs and Department of Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University

Stephen Mak, Architect, Toronto.

Loren March, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto

Judith Marshall, Research Associate, CERLAC, York University

Carlota McAllister, Associate Professor, Anthropology, York University

Eleanor MacDonald, Associate Professor, Department of Political Studies, Queen’s University

Kenneth Iain MacDonald, Dept of Geography and Program in Planning, Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Toronto

Jc Elijah Madayag-Bawuah, Graduate Student, Department of Social Science, York University

Terry Maley, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, York

Raul Mangrau, PhD candidate, Department of Politics, York University

Susan McGrath C.M., Professor Emerita, York University

Wendy McKeen, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, York University

Paul Christopher Gray, Assistant Professor, Department of Labour Studies, Brock University

Tanner Mirrlees, Associate Professor, UOIT

Radhika Mongia, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University

Colin Mooers, professor, Dept of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University

Esteve Morera, Associate Professor, Departments of Philosophy and Politics, York

Allan Moscovitch, Professor Emeritus, Carleton University

Alex Murray, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Karen Murray, Associate Professor and Democratic Administration Program Coordinator, Department of Politics, York University

Lisa Myers, Assistant Lecturer, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Natasha Myers, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, York University

Judith Nagata, Professor Emerita of Anthropology and Asian Studies, York University

Nicole Neverson, Associate Professor, Sociology Ryerson University

Glen Norcliffe, Professor Emeritus, Geography, York University

Liisa L. North, Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics, York

Hadley Obodiac, Filmmaker, Toronto

Kris Olds, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Umut Ozsu, Associate Professor, Department of Law, Carleton University

Laurence Packer, FRES, Distinguished Research Professor, York University

Simon Parker, Co-Director, Centre for Urban Research, University of York, UK.

Leo Panitch, Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics, York

Melanie Panitch, Associate Professor, School of Child and Youth Care, Ryerson

Daniel J. Paré, Associate Professor, Department of Communication, University of Ottawa

Jessica Parish, Visiting Scholar, City Institute York University & Research Associate, Lancaster House Publishing

Justin Paulson, Associate Professor, Department Sociology and Anthropology and Institute of Political Economy, Carleton

Linda Peake, Director, The City Institute at York University

Peter Penz, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Ellie Perkins, Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Camilla Perrone, Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Florence, Italy

Frederick Peters, City Institute at York University

Jay Pitter, Author, Placemaker, Lecturer

Scott Prudham, Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, School of the Environment, University of Toronto

John Radford, Emeritus Professor, Department of Geography, York University

Tracey Raney, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University

Katharine N Rankin, Professor, Geography and Planning, University of Toronto

Veronika Reichert, Teaching Assistant, PhD Student, Department of Politics York University

Markus Reisenleitner, Professor, Department of Humanities, York University

Mahmud Rezaei, Assistant Professor, Architect & Urban Designer, Visiting Scholar, the City Institute at York University

Richard Roman, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

Herman Rosenfeld Retiree Education Department UNIFOR

Stephanie Ross, Associate Professor, School of Labour Studies, York

E. Natalie Rothman, Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Historical and Cultural Studies, University of Toronto Scarborough

Sue Ruddick, Professor, Geography and Planning, University of Toronto

Parastou Saberi, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Geography, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Lake Sagaris, Investigador y Profesor Asociado Adjunto, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile

Anders Sandberg, Professor, Environmental Studies, York University

Richard Saunders, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, York

Rebecca Schein, Human Rights/Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University

Dayna Nadine Scott, York Research Chair in Environmental Law & Justice in the Green Economy

Jo Sharma; Associate Professor, University of Toronto Scarborough

John Shields, Professor Dept. of Politics and Public Administration Ryerson University

Tyler Shipley, Professor of Culture, Society and Commerce, Department of Liberal Studies, Humber College

Joel Shore, Professor of Biology, York University.

Myer Siemiatycki, Professor, Department of Politics & Public Administration, Ryerson University

Brian C.J. Singer, Dept. of Sociology, Glendon, York University

David Skinner, Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies, York University

Charles Smith, Associate Professor, Department of Political Studies, University Saskatchewan André Sorensen, Professor, Department of Human Geography, University of Toronto Scarborough

Luisa Sotomayor, PhD, Assistant Lecturer, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Elaine Stavro, Associate Professor, Department of Political Studies, Trent

Arne S. Steinforth, Department of Anthropology, York

Lindsay Stephens, Course Instructor, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, Scarborough

Andrew Stevens, Associate Professor, Faculty of Business Administration, University of Regina

Donald Swartz, Professor Emeritus, School of Public Policy and Administration, Carleton

Richard Swift Author and Educator Canadian Dimension

Zack Taylor, Director, Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance, University of Western Ontario

Roza Tchoukaleyska, Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Sam Tecle, PhD candidate, Sociology, York University

Mark Thomas, Associate Professor, Sociology, York University

Neil Thomlinson, Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson

Stefan Treffers, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, York University

Eric Tucker, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York

Steven Tufts, Associate Professor, Geography, York University

Ethel Tungohan, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics, York

Murat Ucoglu, Phd candidate, FES, York University

Peter Vandergeest, Professor, Geography, York University

Krys Verrall Adjunct Faculty Department of Humanities York University

Peter A. Victor Emeritus Professor, York University

Ron Vogel, Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration. Ryerson University

David Wachsmuth, Canada Research Chair in Urban Governance, McGill University

Sarah Wakefield, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto

Alan Walks, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Toronto – Mississauga

John Warkentin, Professor Emeritus, Geography, York University

Traci Warkentin, Assistant Lecturer, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

James Watson, PhD candidate, Department of Sociology, McMaster

Elizabeth Watters, Lecturer, School of Social Work, York University

Christopher Webb, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto

Reg Whitaker, Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics, York

Daphne Winland, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, York University

Patricia Wood, Professor, Department of Geography, York University

Jenny Wüstenberg, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics, York

b.h. Yael, Professor, Integrate Media, Faculty of Art, OCAD University

Douglas Young, Associate Professor, Dept of Social Science, York University

Kathy L. Young, Professor, Geography, York U

Anna Zalik, Associate Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University