Published: Tue, September 11, 2018
Economy | By

Judge strikes down bill to reduce Toronto council size

Judge strikes down bill to reduce Toronto council size

"I believe the judge's decision is deeply, deeply concerning", Ford said hours after the scathing court ruling. "The current gridlock has crippled Toronto City Hall and we'll replace this broken system where transit, infrastructure and housing can not get built", said Ford.

For the first time in Ontario's history, Ford said he'll employ this extraordinary tool in the Charter to permit the reduction to 25 wards from 47 for the October election to continue - and warned he could use this extra-ordinary power again but declined to say when.

Some premiers, most notably Saskatchewan New Democrat Allan Blakeney and Alberta Progressive Conservative Peter Lougheed, anxious that a constitutionally entrenched Charter could, as in the USA, prevent legislators from enacting socially useful legislation.

Though it has been decades since its introduction, the clause was just as controversial then as it is now, and with Ford using it, he's triggered an uproar amongst Torontonians.

The judge found that the bill "substantially interfered with both the candidate's and the voter's right to freedom of expression". "That's not fair to anyone, and this isn't a game", said Tory in a press conference. The legislation had passed last month and aligned the city's ward map with federal ridings, a move Premier Doug Ford has argued would improve decision-making and save $25 million.

Canada has a "problem" when a provincial premier can overrule the country's courts, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said Tuesday. "It's an uphill struggle but that doesn't mean that something won't be found or that some advice won't be offered when we meet on Thursday".

Ford said he'll hold an open vote but noted his caucus and cabinet ministers are "1,000%" in favour of his plan.

There were certainly grounds for the Ford government to appeal Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba's ruling that Ford's sloppy legislation violated Torontonians' freedom of expression, providing constitutional grounds to overturn it.

"There is no evidence that any other options or approaches were considered or that any consultation ever took place", Belobaba wrote. "It appears that Bill 5 was hurriedly enacted to take effect in the middle of the city's election without much thought at all, more out of pique than principle".

It also can't be used any time the courts invoke the Charter - that is, it can't be used to override protections for provincial or federal voting rights (Section 3) or rules about the length of time between elections or the minimum amount of time a legislature needs to sit (Sections 4 and 5).

Bill 5 also cancelled planned elections for the head of council position in the regional municipalities of Muskoka, Peel, York and Niagara, turning them into appointed roles. It is an election campaign, one of the most fundamental foundations of our democratic system.

More fundamentally, the Premier seems to think his mandate entitles him to do whatever he pleases and any opposition is illegitimate.

"When Doug Ford tried to ram through this bill, he tried to silence newcomers to the political process and underrepresented voices", CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn said in a statement. "This would seem to be relatively narrow but it would set a really unsafe precedent".

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called Ford's latest move an "abuse of power".

"That would simply be a tantrum by the premier of this province", she said.

The judge acknowledged the importance of exercising judicial restraint when it comes to the decisions of governments but said that in this case, it was appropriate for the court to act.

"This is a risky sign of what this government is willing to do", he said.

With charter negotiations ramping up in the early 1980s, Trudeau didn't see the need for the clause, but provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan wanted an out should they disagree with a decision of the courts.

- with files from Michelle McQuigge.

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