Judge strikes down bill to reduce Toronto council size

Judge strikes down bill to reduce Toronto council size

The federal intergovernmental affairs minister says it is disappointing the Ontario government has resorted to the Constitution's notwithstanding clause to forge ahead with plans to cut the size of Toronto city council.

In his ruling, Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba concluded that the province "crossed the line" when it enacted Bill 5, titled the Better Local Government Act.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks to reporters in Toronto on Monday.

Belobaba accepted arguments from city lawyers, who contended that reducing the number of councillors in the middle of an election is "discriminatory and arbitrary", and violated the charter.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends a meeting with Toronto Mayor John Tory, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair, and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders at City Hall in Toronto on Monday, July 23, 2018.

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. "It is inexcusable that the Ford government targeted only the city of Toronto for these dramatic changes", Fletcher said.

"I was elected", he said firmly, "the judge was appointed".

In an interview with Global News Radio 640 Toronto, Ford was asked if he intends to shrink other city councils in the province in the same way he's cutting Toronto's nearly in half.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he's received calls from Ottawa residents and "all over the province" in the wake of his plan to reduce the size of Toronto city council, stoking speculation that he hasn't ruled out using the province's powers to shrink other local governments.

Of course, in addition to the usual misleading squeals about "activist judges", Ford's supporters in the news media, the Astroturf sector, and on social media were confidently shouting the opposite - that Canadians trust legislatures over the courts.

She added that she is certain the judge would have crafted his ruling to withstand an appeal.

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"Democracy does not belong to a few of us, it belongs to all of us", he said.

A number of Toronto city councillors also applauded the judgement. Kristyn Wong-Tam said many council candidates held off registering in the 25-ward system pending the outcome of the court case.

Ford had argued it would improve decision-making on the council.

"While the timing of the bill was not ideal. this bill was introduced almost three months before the election date, which is still longer than federal and provincial writ periods", CTF's federal director Aaron Wudrick said in a statement.

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

Ford's excesses are bound to renew calls here in Western Canada for Ottawa to use the notwithstanding clause to overturn last month's Federal Court of Appeal ruling that upended the federal cabinet order authorizing construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

McMaster University political science professor Greg Flynn said Ford's use of the notwithstanding clause is a "nuclear response" and will likely lead to more litigation.

He ruled that the enactment of Bill 5 in the middle of an election "substantially interfered" with the freedom of expression of both the municipal candidate as well as the voter under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. "It's apples and oranges, apples and oranges, when you compare a town the size of Ottawa, a handsome city, compared to a city the size of Toronto, you can't even compare it".

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the decision confirms that not even Ford is "above the law".

Belobaba said he could not make a ruling in regards to the selection process for the regional chair positions in York Region, Muskoka, Niagara, and Peel Region.

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