Phil Squire resignation shocks council, leaves two wards with vacant seats

London Ward 6 Councillor Phil Squire dropped a bombshell Tuesday afternoon when announced he was resigning from council. 

"It’s a difficult choice, but a choice that makes sense for me," Squire told members of the Corporate Services Committee (CSC).  

Squire learned Friday he had been given a position as an adjudicator on the Consent and Capacity Board which leaves him ineligible to serve as a city councillor.

According to Squire he'll be working in "adjudication in matters of people with mental disabilities."

"This was a tough day for me in a way because I'm giving up something that I love but I'm giving it up for something that I suppose I see in my future as being the best use of my abilities," Squire told CTV News London.

He has also planned to seek re-election until earning the new role. The news shocked council, who now will have to decide how to fill not only Arielle Kayabaga's Ward 13 vacancy, but now Squire's who has been on council since 2014. 

The CSC started that debate Tuesday on whether to appoint a councillor or hold a by-election. 

"I move the following action be taken to fill the vacancy of the office for ward 13," said Mayor Ed Holder, the first to speak on the matter. 

"John Fyfe-Millar be appointed to office of Ward 13. All of us supported the notion of ranked ballots, why would we cease to support that now." 

The mayor's motion sent an often divided council into a frenzy. The issue so important and impactful that even four members of council who don't sit on the committee showed up to discuss their views. 

"I'm not convinced by-election is the right way to proceed," says Ward 4 Councillor Jesse Helmer. "My next preference is to appoint someone who has been on council before and is not going to run again in the future."

The same sentiment was echoed by Ward 9 Councillor Anna Hopkins and Ward 5 Councillor Maureen Cassidy. 

"I do not support mayor's motion," says Cassidy, the chair of the CSC.  "I fundamentally disagree with the notion this is the point of ranked ballots, this is not the point of ranked ballots."However others were on side with the idea of choosing Fyfe-Millar. 

"If we go to a former councillor for Ward 13 right now, we would have to go back a ways to someone who has not held office during the pandemic," says Shawn Lewis, Ward 2 Councillor.  "When this goes to council, I will support the mayor's motion."

Ward 1 Councillor Michael Van Holst agrees that appointment is the “way to go” over a by-election. 

"At his highest Mr. Fyfe-Millar had 48.5 per cent of the vote. If he had 1.6 per cent more, we wouldn't be having this debate as he'd be the sitting councillor," said Van Holst. 

Ultimately, with the support of Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan and Van Holst, the mayor's motion passed. 

The recommendation of Fyfe-Millar, the runner up in Ward 13 in 2018, will now go to Council on Oct. 26. 

One thing it seems everyone agreed on, is that a costly by-election of more than $300,000 is not logical. 

"I think everybody agrees, if the timing was different, a by-election would be ideal," said Lewis.  "That's not the case here. A by-election would be four months from now and these wards need representation now. It's also not just the wards, it’s the the agencies, boards and commissions. Whether it's the Transit Commission, the Housing Board, Tourism London, those all now have vacancies that need to be filled."

Council will have plenty to discuss, and debate at its next meeting, and it's certain to be divided once again. 

"There is a recommendation on Ward 13," says Cassidy.  "The recommendation was 3-2 that they just go ahead and appoint John Fyfe-Millar. That will be very thoroughly debated at council and who knows where council is going to end up on that,” he said. “Then we'll be starting from scratch with Councillor Squire's seat for Ward 6, trying to decide what to do at to fill that vacancy.”

Lewis says Council will formally have to ratify Squire's seat vacant before it can start to fill it, just like what has already been done in Ward 13. 

"We're not going to have to do the process again, but at least we've been through it once, so we'll be able to hopefully get through both of these processes in a timely manner," said Lewis.