City Council Rejects By-Election, Will Appoint a New Councillor for Ward 3
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City Council Rejects By-Election, Will Appoint a New Councillor for Ward 3

Councillors vote to appoint a replacement for outgoing councillor Doug Holyday rather than sending residents to the polls.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday at a council meeting last year.

The special city council meeting called to decide how to replace outgoing councillor Doug Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke-Centre) began by showcasing the rather unusual coalition of Rob Ford and the Toronto Star, who stood united in their call for a by-election rather than an appointment. Submitted to council by the mayor as background reading for the meeting: a Star editorial endorsing a by-election—the mayor’s preferred course as well. (Adding to the oddness: the opening line of that editorial reads “Mayor Rob Ford, for once, is taking a prudent step.”)

That agreement among the unlikeliest allies wasn’t enough to persuade the majority of councillors. By a vote of 14-19, they rejected calling a by-election, and decided to appoint Doug Holyday’s replacement instead.

It wasn’t just Ford and the Star: the vote saw many councillors who generally disagree uniting for or against the by-election. Joining the mayor in voting for a by-election, for instance, were staunch Ford opponents Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) and Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina). Rejecting a by-election were some Ford allies, such as Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), and many opponents, such as Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East).

For those who called for a by-election, the explanation was simple: in a democracy, people have a right to choose their representatives rather than having them chosen on their behalf. And while the timing is inconvenient, council’s policy (which has been on the books for years, but is non-binding) is that if a seat is declared vacant more than a year prior to a scheduled election, a by-election should be held to fill that seat. Since this case meets that litmus test, they maintained the choice should have been clear.

For those who favoured an appointment over a by-election, however, the key concern was the timeline: since council is holding its regularly scheduled election next year, their argument went, holding a by-election now would give whoever won just one council meeting to participate in before everyone begins getting distracted by the campaign season. Some also cited the cost involved, which is estimated to be about $225,000.

Timeline for a Council Appointment

As outlined today by city clerk Ulli Watkiss, here is what will happen next:

Publicizing the vacancy: in order to let the public know that the council seat is vacant, “advertisements shall be placed in one major daily newspaper and in one local newspaper serving the ward.” Those ads will explain how interested citizens could apply to be considered for the appointment, if they want to toss their hats into the ring.

September 25: the city clerk will hold an information session for interested parties. All the forms that people will need to fill out in order to apply will be available at that time.

September 26, noon: Deadline to file applications for the vacancy.

October 3: The Etobicoke York Community Council (a committee of city councillors representing that area of Toronto specifically) will hold a special meeting, during which all the applicants whose paperwork is in order will be able to address the committee and explain why they think they are the best choice to fill the seat. The community council will then hold a vote, or if needed, several rounds of voting (as parties do when choosing their leaders federally and provincially) and select one applicant as its preferred choice to appoint to council.

October 10: A special meeting of full city council will be convened to select the new councillor. Council will be able to hear from all applicants—not just the one chosen by the community council—and then members will vote to choose which applicant will fill the seat. Whomever they select will be sworn into office as soon as possible and begin serving as councillor immediately thereafter.

It is customary that council look for “caretaker” appointees—people who don’t have political ambitions, and who promise not to run in the next election. This is because incumbents in municipal politics are widely understood to have a significant advantage when it comes to campaigning, and many think it’s unfair for an appointee to enter a regular election with a boost from council, without ever having been voted in by their residents. Council has no legal authority to impose this as a requirement, however. (One current city councillor, Paul Ainslie [Ward 43, Scarborough East] initially made it onto council as an appointee in another nearby ward, and though he promised not to run after the term of his appointment had ended, he wound up doing so and won that election.]