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Toronto city council divided on how best to fill Holyday’s vacant seat

Toronto councillors are divided as they prepare to make the choice between a by-election or an appointment to fill Doug Holyday's council seat. But if history and policy dictate, the choice will be clear: a by-election has always been council's preference in similar circumstances in the past.

On Monday, the city clerk provided a report to be presented at a special council meeting August 26, where council will declare Mr. Holyday's seat vacant and decide how to fill the position. He'll be sworn in as a Progressive Conservative MPP on Thursday after winning a provincial by-election earlier this month, leaving his office at city hall empty.

The city clerk's report included a history of council's decisions on similar vacancies since amalgamation in 1998. Since then, nine council seats have been declared vacant. Council chose to hold a by-election twice and favoured an appointment seven times.

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While appointments were more frequent, they only happened when the seat was declared vacant with less than a year until the next general election. Any time a seat was vacated with more than a year until the next election – as is the case with Mr. Holyday's seat – council opted for a by-election instead.

In fact, as the city clerk's report points out, council has a guideline that states any vacancy before November 30 in the year prior to an election year should be filled through by-election, rather than appointment.

With the special meeting next week, the city could hold a by-election as early as November 25, according to the city clerk's report. Mayor Rob Ford has been strongly in favour of a by-election, saying the ward needs elected representation, especially with important talks ahead like the 2014 budget.

"That's still a year. A lot of stuff gets done," he said on Sunday.

With the general municipal election on the horizon in October of 2014, many councillors across the political spectrum don't think the cost is worth the short stint in office, even with the special meeting expediting the process. The city clerk's report estimated a by-election would come with a $225,000 price tag. Mr. Holyday himself has said he prefers an appointment, as does fellow fiscal conservative councillor Mike Del Grande. Mr. Del Grande will be away on vacation during the meeting, but sent around an e-mail urging his fellow councillors to consider an appointment, rather than spending the money for a by-election.

Councillor Jaye Robinson said Monday she continues to support an appointment process, even with the earlier date.

"Nominations for the general election open in January 2014 and that's basically the beginning of campaigning. You're looking at one month after the by-election the campaigning period would commence," she said, adding if they decide to go with an appointment, it would have to be with the stipulation that the appointee not be allowed to run in the general election.

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"I know there's a history of councillors doing that but I feel very strongly that they shouldn't be allowed to run for at least one term."

Just such a stipulation was imposed on councillor Cesar Palacio. He was appointed to council in March, 2000 with the agreement he not run in the general election that November. Mr. Palacio followed through and didn't run until 2003, when he won his seat. He said if a by-election could be held this year, he would support it. Others, including new deputy mayor Norm Kelly, have said a by-election is the only democratic option.

"The essence of democracy is for people to choose their representative," he said, adding he hopes council will follow suit with their record of by-elections when the time warrants one.

"It's more expensive than an appointment but it can be done earlier and it would certainly give residents a more effective voice."

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