Premier Doug Ford claims the move to shrink Toronto city council will save taxpayers $25 million over four years.
But what about the cost to taxpayers to impose this change in the middle of an election? The move resulted in city and provincial lawyers battling in court, while the government recalled the legislature for several days — including a weekend and overnight session — towards implementing legislation a judge ruled unconstitutional.
Last month, the city clerk Ulli Watkiss estimated it will cost $2.5 million more over the current budget of $14.9 million, to move from the 47- to 25-ward model in time for the Oct. 22 municipal election.
Watkiss told council last week her office has “hit a tipping point,” and it’s “becoming virtually impossible” for staff to carry out the election on the planned date.
Both the City of Toronto and the Attorney General of Ontario have several lawyers on the file.
City spokesperson Tammy Robbinson said the city’s legal department has not hired outside lawyers and staff lawyers, who are on salary, don’t get paid overtime.
In a statement to the Star late Monday night, Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson Brian Gray said in-house government counsel “provide advice to and litigate on behalf of the government in a wide range of matters. Files are regularly assigned and reassigned as needed to support the work of government.”
Nelson Wiseman, director of the Canadian Studies Program and professor of political science at the University of Toronto, noted the push to move the legislation through quickly is “pulling people off of other files.”
“Not just lawyers. Staff people, the attorney general’s department, the political staffers, other things that ministers are working on. Here they are spending the whole night sitting there and there are files on their desks,” Wiseman said.
Asked about overtime costs for the staffers during the special sessions, Todd Decker, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, said his office does not “separately track this type of information.”
He said assembly staff are on salaries and would be given time off to compensate for extra work hours.
Decker added the legislature is used to “adapting to the needs of a dynamic and active parliament,” whether for sittings of the house beyond the normal calender year or unplanned special events like a royal visit.
“We have always been able to manage this within approved funding allocations,” he added. He did not respond to a followup question about whether this means the emergency session was pulled off without any extra cost to the taxpayer.
Government House Leader Todd Smith said the costs of the extra sittings is “not going to be that much.”
“Certainly there were staff around last night and these things have happened from time to time where we’ve called the house back to sit,” he added, noting the weekend sitting last fall when the then-Liberal government legislated college faculty back to work after their five-week strike.
Smith also said the government has “offered the services of Elections Ontario to ensure that the election on Oct. 22 can go off without a hitch.”
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said MPPs living outside of Toronto would have had to make a special trip to Toronto for the weekend sessions. Otherwise they would have stayed in their home ridings for the weekend and then gone straight to the International Plowing Match (a five day agricultural event held at a different Ontario farm each year).
This kind of travel cost would come out of MPPs’ travel budgets, a former political staffer told the Star.
Policing and security:
The Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief Robert Benzie counted seven Toronto Police cruisers, one SUV, and eight officers on bikes at the legislature late Sunday evening, as protesters gathered at Queen’s Park, decrying Ford’s all-night session.
Asked Monday about overtime costs, Toronto Police spokesperson Katrina Arrogante said she did not have the “approximate number of officers that were there,” and could not confirm whether they were paid overtime or already working a midnight shift.
As for Queen’s Park security, Legislative Assembly clerk Decker said “security is run on shifts on a 24/7 basis, and so some security personnel would be compensated in pay for working shifts in addition to their normal times.” He added that for security reasons the legislature does not disclose the deployment of personnel.
Emergency council meetings:
The city’s spokesperson Tammy Robbinson said costs for two emergency council meetings responding to Ford’s plans to cut council and the use of the notwithstanding clause, were within the city clerk’s office budget.
With files from Kristin Rushowy and David Rider
May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11
Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org