Judge strikes down bill to reduce Toronto council size

Council Chambers at city hall in Toronto Ont. on Monday

Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba said in his decision that Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government "clearly crossed the line" with Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act, which would have cut the number of municipal seats from 47 to 25. Because the law took effect in the middle of the election, candidates had to reorganize their campaigns and spent significant amounts of time simply addressing the changes instead of political issues.

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.

Ontario PC leader Doug Ford speaks to supporters following a rally at the Fogolar Furlan Club, Windsor, May 31, 2018.

Ford's use of the notwithstanding clause, which gives provincial legislatures or Parliament the ability to override certain portions of the charter for a five-year term, drew swift condemnation from critics, who said the size of Toronto's city council was not the kind of issue the constitutional provision was created to deal with.

While his ruling is expected to be appealed by the province, it does now revert Toronto's election to the 47-ward structure for the October 22 election. He said Belobaba's decision used arguments on Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms - which covers democratic rights - to strike down the government's act on the basis of it violating Section 2 rights, which cover freedom of expression.

Toronto Mayor John Tory called the use of the notwithstanding clause a "gross overreach" of the province's powers. The fact that Ontario has never used it, and it's been used so sparingly across the country, is because most governments, like most of those they represent, are timid.

Speaking to CP24 at city hall, Coun.

"If there was a concern about the large size of some of the city's wards (by my count, six wards had populations ranging from 70,000 to 97,000), why not deal with these six wards specifically? Will he release any and all text messages, emails, notebooks, direct messages, phone logs and other forms of communication between himself or his staff and Premier Ford, Patrick Brown or their staff in the previous year?"

"This is good news for local democracy and to unfair government interference with election", Layton tweeted.

He also tut-tutted about the province's lack of consultation, though he noted there's no duty on legislators to consult before passing a bill.

The legislature is being recalled Wednesday, when Ford's government is expected to reintroduce Bill 5 with the clause, which allows the legislation to stand, even if it infringes certain Charter rights, as the court ruled the reduction of wards did.

"Democracy does not belong to a few of us, it belongs to all of us", said Tory, who is seeking another term in office. "Returning to the 47 ward model means that women and racialized candidates have a real chance to represent their communities and build a more inclusive city for everyone".

Horwath said she not only opposes Ford's plan to invoke the notwithstanding clause - but also opposes any plan by Ford to use public money to fund an appeal on the court's ruling, saying it's wrong to waste more of Ontarians' money on Doug Ford's revenge plot.

"I have a lot of friends who were running in this particular election, people who I've mentored, people who I've encouraged to run, and the last thing we wanted to do was engage in some form of 'The Hunger Games, '" she said.

But, if Ford gets his way by forcing a reversal, it's not clear if there will be an opportunity for those who have not yet signed up to register in the 25-ward race.

"We're waiting to hear", Perks told the Star on Tuesday. We believed in the judicial process.

The premier, whose government is facing other legal challenges on controversial moves such as the scrapping of a modernized sex-ed curriculum, said he "won't be shy" about using the notwithstanding clause - known as Section 33 of the charter - again in the future.

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