Toronto residents plan legal battles to fight council cuts

Published On August 15, 2018 | By Norma Zminkowska | News, Politics

Protester holding a sign outside of City Hall in response to the PC government’s announcement to cut Toronto council in half for the October elections. (Toronto and York Region Labour Council)

Norma Zminkowska

Legal experts are fighting back after the Ontario Progressive Conservative government passed a controversial bill in legislature yesterday that would cut Toronto’s council to 25 wards from the proposed 47 planned to take effect for the 2018 municipal elections.

Rocco Achampong, a lawyer and council candidate for Eglinton-Lawrence, filed an injunction against the Better Local Government Act yesterday in the hopes to impede the new amendments sought by the PCs. There is a court date set for the end of this month.

“Given the ongoing confusion surrounding the 2018 Toronto municipal election, and the luck to have a date on [Aug. 31] to argue the application before the courts on its merits, I am considering amending my application to have the election declared illegitimate,” Achampong said in a statement.

Mayor John Tory said the City Solicitor will present any possible legal actions the city might take in a special council meeting that will be held Aug. 20.

“At that time, Council will vote to direct any official legal action, which could include the request for injunction relief,” he said moments after the bill passed in legislature. “I look forward to Monday’s meeting where we will receive advice from our City Solicitor on what steps we can take to ensure a proper process is followed.”

Tory wrote a public letter last week urging Premier Doug Ford to not cut the council, even though the premier has stated the mayor is “quite happy” with the new amendments.

Ward boundary review

The city hired an independent team of consultants in 2014 to review the 44 ward boundaries at the time. Council voted in favour of 47 wards in November 2016 after three rounds of public consultations and research on boundary options to ensure “everyone in Toronto is fairly represented,” the review states.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark was not convinced the review was accepted by voters.

“The idea that the boundary review had tremendous public support is a myth,” he said.

He said “no record was kept of the 192 people who appeared at public meetings or the 600 who filled out an online survey. Did the same 10 people attend meetings and count as 100 participants? We actually don’t know.”

The 47-ward model wouldn’t achieve voter parity and effective representation, said Councillor Justin Di Ciano, Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Instead, the 25-ward model, which would line up with the provincial and federal ward boundaries, would be “a fair vote,” he said.

The boundary review states the 47-ward model would have an average of 61,000 residents per ward by 2026, accounting for rapid population increases. Di Ciano said people don’t have to wait until 2026 for voter parity.

Citizens fighting

Some election volunteers are still campaigning against the recent amendments, even though it received Royal Assent yesterday.

A grassroots campaign called #ResistFord, comprised of volunteers who worked on campaigns for city council candidates, is raising money to fund a legal team to represent 200 to 300 candidates challenging the government’s legislation.

The Toronto and York Region Labour Council will host a city-wide public meeting to inform residents about what will happen to their wards and what can be done. Toronto Centre-Rosedale Councillor Kristyn Wong Tam and NDP MPP for Toronto Centre Suze Morrison are expected to speak at the meeting.

The new act will also cancel regional chair elections in Peel, York, Niagara and the District of Muskoka.

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