Judge rules against Ford

Judge rules against Ford

An Ontario judge has struck down a provincial bill that would have seen the size of Toronto's city council slashed almost in half.

Justice Belobaba found the Better Local Government Act, also known as Bill 5, infringed freedom of expression in two respects.

Bill 5 cut the size of Toronto's city council from 47 seats to 25, aligning them with federal ridings, despite the fact that the campaign for the October 22 municipal election was already underway.

Premier Doug Ford says he intends to recall the legislature this week to pass his "Better Local Government Act", while invoking the notwithstanding clause. If the Province were to redraw ward boundaries along federal and provincial riding lines in the future-like they're trying to do in Toronto-Ottawa City Hall would have just eight councillors plus the mayor. 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'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.

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

"We're gonna turn this province around", Ford said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes an announcement at the Queens Park legislature in Toronto on Wednesday, August 15, 2018.

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

"Throughout his blustering afternoon press conference, Ford revealed a view of government, and of democracy, that is essentially pre-constitutional".

The premier was set to respond to the ruling at noon, but the judge has noted that he was certain the losing party would appeal.

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

Speaking at the Mayor's Breakfast Tuesday morning, MacLeod told reporters there's no "for now" when it comes to a possible cut to Ottawa's city council chambers. First, candidates who had already made a decision to run under the old system were deeply impacted.

"(Reducing and streamlining council) will fix this dysfunctional government. For instance, it can't be used against provisions that protect the democratic process - that would create a pathway to dictatorship.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam added that an appeal for the province would be a "steep uphill climb".

Ford had said in the past that Ottawa and Toronto city councils are not comparable, calling the comparison one of apples to oranges.

"You can't change the rules in the middle of a game". The idea that governments might see their legislative goals struck down by a single judge was, he said, "scary".

Why didn't he campaign on it in the June provincial election?

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.

This has always been evident from what details we know of Premier Ford's personal life before and after he entered politics, not to mention his conduct and that of his late little brother Rob when the latter was the out-of-control mayor of Toronto.

The decision has no effect on Bill 5's cancelling of regional chair elections in other municipalities.

"The only people who are fighting this bill are left-wing councillors who want to continue their free ride on the taxpayers, along with a network of activist groups that have entrenched themselves with power over the years", said Ford. Others might say the decision in this case is so deficient that it is tailor-made for the notwithstanding clause.