Ford invokes notwithstanding clause to cut Toronto City Council

Published On September 10, 2018 | By Norma Zminkowska | News, Politics

Norma Zminkowska

Premier Doug Ford announced he plans to invoke the notwithstanding clause for the first time in Ontario history in the hopes of overriding a ruling made earlier today by a Superior Court judge that said the PC government’s legislation to cut Toronto City Council in half is “unconstitutional.”

Judge Edward Belobaba issued a decision early Monday morning, stating the Ford government’s plan to reduce council to 25 wards from 47, known as the Better Local Government Act, violated the right to freedom of expression in the Charter of Rights. The act also violated democratic principles because it changed ward boundaries in the middle of an election campaign. Belobaba said not only were the candidates’ rights infringed, but that the rights of any election staff, volunteers and donors were also denied.

The premier said his government introduced the legislation in the first place to create a more “streamlined” council that would be able to quickly address issues like transit and affordable housing.

“I believe the judge’s decision is deeply concerning and the result is unacceptable to the people of Ontario,” Ford said.

He further implied his position is more democratic because he is the one that was elected and the judge was appointed by former premier Dalton McGuinty and said the decision is “shocking” because it was made by one person and not by the people.

The decision was in response to City of Toronto et al. v. Ontario, which heard arguments made by the city and several council candidates at the end of last month. The judge argued that although cities are constitutional creatures of the province, increasing the ward sizes “breached the municipal voter’s right to cast a vote that can result in effective representation.” The 25-ward model, if it came into effect, would increase the ward population size to an average of 111,000, from an average of 61,000.

Belobaba consistently questioned the timing of this legislation in his 20-page decision. He said that fundamental to the case was proving whether or not changing the electoral districts in an election campaign that started May 1 “interfered with the candidate’s right to freedom of expression.”

To which he replied: “How could it not?”

In reaction to the ruling, Mayor John Tory said “at the time of Bill 5 being announced, repeated many times since, that you can’t change the rules in the middle of a game. That’s unfair to anyone and this is not a game.”

Some councillors and candidates also celebrated the decision. Kristyn Wong-Tam, the councillor for Toronto-Centre Rosedale, said she and others are “delighted” about the ruling.

“We were always hoping for the best, preparing for the worst. There is an element of surprise largely because this case was always so controversial,” she said to reporters at City Hall.

Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat also made a statement regarding the controversial case and ruling. “While today’s ruling is good news, we didn’t have to get here,” she said. “When the chips were down, John Tory didn’t have our city’s back and this entire episode has shown us that we need new leadershup at City Hall.”

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