LILLEY: Ford needs to cut Ottawa city council before the October election

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Unless Premier Doug Ford acts, the City of Ottawa will have almost as many municipal politicians as Toronto after the October elections.

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In a December 2020 vote, at a time when the province was working at breakneck speed to get just-arrived COVID vaccines out the door to the most vulnerable, Ottawa City Council voted to expand. Instead of 23 councilors and a mayor, the city will have 24 councilors and a mayor after the Oct. 24 election.

Toronto is a city with 2.8 million people and just 25 councilors and a mayor, but Ottawa — with just over 1 million people, or one-third of Toronto’s population — would have just one fewer elected municipal official. To put this another way, Toronto city councilors would have an average of 112,000 constituents per ward, but after the coming election, Ottawa would have 41,416 per ward.

As a long time resident of both cities, I can’t say that Ottawa residents are better served by having more politicians.

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In 2018, when Ford was the newly elected premier, he shocked Toronto City Hall by announcing in the summer that the new city wards would match the federal and provincial riding boundaries and council would be cut in half. If Ottawa were to follow the same pattern of matching the federal and provincial riding boundaries, that would leave eight councilors and a mayor.

That might be too few council members to effectively represent a city like Ottawa and to be honest, the smaller you go in a city, the less sense it makes to have council wards match the federal and provincial ridings. Some cities under such a system would be reduced to two or three councillors, plus a mayor — hardly an effective system.

Yet, even having two councilors for each federal or provincial riding would bring the total down to 16 councillors, plus a mayor, and would save taxpayers considerably.

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Mississauga, with a population of just shy of 829,000 people, gets by with just 11 councillors. If Ottawa adopted the same ratio, or Ford wisely imposed it on them, they would have roughly 13 councilors and a mayor after the next election.

The savings to taxpayers would be considerable.

Each Ottawa city councilor has an office budget of about $274,000 per year. The councilors don’t have to pay office rent out of that for their city hall or ward offices. That cost is covered by the city.

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Taxpayers also pick up costs their provincial counterparts have to pay out of their office budgets, which are only a bit higher at roughly $300,000.

Cutting council to 13 members, plus the mayor — instead of increasing the size to 24 plus the mayor — would save city ratepayers close to $4.5 million a year just in office budget and salary expenses alone.

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The best part is no one would notice a drop-in service. We didn’t notice in Toronto.

I asked Ford about cutting Ottawa council during an interview back in 2018. He told me that he wasn’t ready to do it at that point, but he was hearing from plenty of people in Ottawa who wanted him to cut council deep.

“Second to Toronto, the number one amount of calls – because I give my cell number to absolutely everyone – is from the Ottawa and Ottawa region talking about that,” Ford said at the time.

Well, if he wasn’t ready to do it then, he should do it now, before the October election.

Ottawa isn’t the only place that needs to see the number of municipal politicians trimmed back – Niagara, York and Peel Regional councils come to mind — but Ottawa is the big prize at the moment.

Turkeys don’t vote for Thanksgiving and politicians seldom vote for there being fewer of them. Time for Ford to force the issue.

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