Ontario's premier is exacting "political revenge" on Toronto because the city did not elect him as mayor four years ago, his chief rival alleges.
Doug Ford faced a grilling in question period Monday over his bombshell move to slash the size of Toronto city council from 47 seats to 25, and cancel October elections for regional chair jobs in York, Peel, Niagara, and Muskoka.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was scolded more than once by the Speaker for charging that Ford was acting "like a dictator" and seeking to rig municipal elections with a "secret" plan he never mentioned on the campaign trail.
"When did he decide to be a bully instead of a premier?" she asked.
Ford, who also represents the Toronto riding of Etobicoke North, shot back that Progressive Conservatives campaigned on reducing the size and costs of government and said he "fought for the people of this great city" for years.
Horwath accused him of now seeking to control city hall from the premier's office. Ford said he's talked to thousands of Torontonians and none have asked for more politicians. He challenged her to go door-knocking with him to test that theory out.
'This premier could not get elected as mayor of Toronto'
But Horwath also suggested Ford was carrying hard feelings from losing the 2014 mayoral race in Canada's largest city. Ford, at the time a city councillor, jumped into the race just weeks before the October vote that year. He took the place of his brother, the incumbent, after Rob Ford was diagnosed with cancer.
Ford finished a respectable second place to John Tory that year with more than 330,000 votes. Before he jumped into the PC leadership race last January, Ford was planning to challenge Tory again.
"This premier could not get elected as mayor of Toronto. He was soundly defeated," Horwath said, sparking applause. "And in June the vast majority of Torontonians once again rejected this premier.
"Instead of accepting Toronto's verdict, this premier is trying to settle political scores with the people of this city."
Ford shot back that he did pretty well in the last municipal election and said the NDP was "throwing boulders in a glass house" by bringing up the results of last month's provincial election.
PCs want to see 25 municipal seats in Toronto to coincide with 25 federal and provincial ridings. In the provincial vote, PCs and the NDP each took the same number of Toronto seats —11 — while the Liberals won three.
Horwath said the decision on how many seats Toronto has on council belongs with the city alone.
"Taking revenge on political opponents does not show strength," she said. "It is a deeply chilling sign of weakness and insecurity."
Ford to Horwath: 'You won't ever have to worry about acting like a leader'
Ford also scored applause from his bench with a jab back at Horwath when she asked why he has no idea how to act like a premier.
"You won't ever have to worry about acting like a leader," he said. "You will never have to worry about that."
The PCs argue the plan will save Toronto taxpayers $25 million over four years in councillor and staff salaries, money that Ford said Monday could be reallocated to frontline staff such as police or put toward transit projects.
Ford even claimed at one point in question period that "people are sleeping on the streets because too much money is going to the politicians."
The premier, who is scrapping Ontario's cap-and-trade system and spoiling for a fight on carbon pricing, also argued that cutting Toronto city council was an exercise in thinking green.
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"I can assure you, when we have 25 councillors, it's going to be 500,000 less sheets of paper," he said. "I'm protecting the environment. I'm protecting trees. This is going to be less bureaucracy. It's going to make the mayor's job easier."
But Brampton East NDP MPP Gurratan Singh pointed out that taxpayers will be on the hook for legal challenges to Ford's plan.
Tory told reporters Monday that he was not ruling out supporting a legal challenge on the issue, but seemed to concede it would mostly be about delaying the inevitable. The province has the constitutional authority to make such changes.
"I don't think there's any way we can stop it necessarily in the context of the province not able to move forward with changes to the City of Toronto Act... but I think we sure can call into question the process here," Tory said.
With a file from The Canadian Press