Judge Rules Against Ford's Attempt To Slash Toronto City Council

Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes an announcement at the Queens Park legislature in Toronto on Wednesday

A judge has struck down provincial legislation that would have cut the size of Toronto city council almost in half in the middle of an election. Ford, a failed Toronto mayoral candidate and single-term city councillor, argued the move will improve decision-making and save $25 million.

That's the lay of the land after an unprecedented day that saw a Superior Court judge strike down the province's Bill 5 as unconstitutional, and Ford vowing to use a rarely-invoked "notwithstanding" clause to override the ruling and reinstate the council cut.

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. City Council has talked of delaying the October 22 general election but the legality of that seems a challenge.

"We need to do everything within our power to stand up for local democracy", she said.

The City Clerk has previously said that she could not plan for a 47-ward election while planning for a 25-ward vote.

By throwing 47 municipal races into disarray, after "candidates' time and money had been invested within the (pre-existing) boundaries", the government breached the free expression rights of council candidate Rocco Achampong, Belobaba found.

"That is not fair to anyone and this is not a game".

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.

The premier said the province would also appeal the court decision, which said the legislation - called the Better Local Government Act - was hurriedly enacted in the middle of a municipal election and interfered with the right to freedom of expression for both candidates and voters. Although its use is often said to amount to "overruling the Charter", that's not technically correct: it's a part of the Charter, included as a compromise measure to ensure provincial support for the document's adoption in 1982.

Ford said he'd be recalling the legislature this week to introduce legislation that will invoke the notwithstanding clause.

"The notwithstanding clause was put there for very extraordinary circumstances and very extraordinary instances and you'd have to ask yourself why does this change, this particular change at this time, qualify as one of those", Tory said.

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"He said this judgement doesn't preclude the province from enacting something in the future with due notice and due consultation and due study", Mascarin added.

Coun. Mike Layton said he hopes the ruling serves as a "lesson" to Doug Ford and his government.

The Ontario government had at least an arguable basis on which to explain the decision: By invoking Section 33, it could have presented itself as maintaining certainty and the status quo for the municipal election while also seeking to appeal the lower court ruling.

"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. "And we won", he tweeted.

"Democracy is going every four years to elect a government ... without worrying about your mandate being overturned". "Nominations under the 25-ward model were closed following the Superior Court ruling".

"I believe this decision is deeply concerning and wrong and the result is unacceptable to the people of Ontario", Ford 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.

Um, "Crickets"? Really? That's now a valid argument by a judge in Ontario?

"Closing date is Friday, and I suspect they will develop a contingency plan based on the situation we are now in".

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