Ask Torontoist: Ousting a Mayor
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Ask Torontoist: Ousting a Mayor

Ask Torontoist features questions posed by you, and answered by our elite team of specially trained investigative experts (also known as our staff). Send your questions to [email protected].

Reader torontothegreat asks:

Is there such thing as a non-confidence vote on city council?

Torontoist answers:

Short answer: No. And in case you were wondering, there is no way to get rid of a mayor just because some people are dissatisfied with him or his policies.
As for technical ousting mechanisms, non-confidence motions are part of parliamentary systems (like our federal and provincial governments), but aren’t really a thing in our municipal politics. In parliaments, if a motion of non-confidence passes, convention stipulates that parliament be dissolved and an election held. But as some of our lovely, smart, talented, good-looking readers pointed out, municipal politics is a whole other quagmire.
City council is not a parliamentary system, so motions of non-confidence are not an option.
What about recall or impeachment, you ask? Nope. That is also not a thing. Despite the efforts of some city councils there are no legally-binding mechanisms to impeach, recall, or force resignation on a mayor in Ontario. Short of the mayor being charged in criminal court and sent to jail, it’s really tough to get one out of office before his or her term is up. Especially one who won 47% of the vote and has lots of support on council (and scores pretty well in opinion polls).

Though all is not lost! Since the mayor is just one vote on a council of forty-five, if enough councillors got together they could, technically, thwart the mayor by always voting against his proposals or amending them into submission. But the administrative powers held by a mayor, like command structure of City staff, make thwarting rather unlikely. Council could theoretically draft a budget without any involvement from the mayor, but they’d likely have to do it without any help from staff. Kind of like how you could harvest a vineyard by hand, alone.
Plus, according to Neil Thomlinson, politics and public administration department chair at Ryerson, where recall and impeachment procedures do exist, they tend, like all things political, to stray from their admirable intentions. Sullied by a lust for money and power, recall and/or impeachment, they are “often used against elected officials who really do have a large popular mandate, but who have powerful (and rich) enemies who can organise [sic] the recall drive and finance it,” Thomlinson explains in an email. He points to many U.S. jurisdictions, like California, where such initiatives have become a way of life, making it very difficult to carry out the business of governing.
And though he says he’s not exactly a fan of the mayor, Thomlinson urges Torontonians to support the process that put him in office.
“I know this is very unpopular to say in these ‘power to the people’ times… but ‘the people’ need to realise [sic] that they either elected Rob Ford or allowed him to be elected. And they need to take responsibility for that. It ain’t the fault of ‘the system.'”