Ford to invoke Constitution's notwithstanding clause to override judge's city council decision

Toronto City Council chambers CITYNEWS

Toronto City Council chambers CITYNEWS

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.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba handed down his decision today that effectively struck down Bill 5, known as the Local Better Government Act.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is pictured at a meeting of economists from major Canadian banks on August 30, 2018. "It appears that Bill 5 was hurriedly enacted to take effect in the middle of the city's election without much thought at all, more out of pique than principle".

For the first time in Ontario's history, Ford said he'll employ this extraordinary tool in the Charter to permit the reduction to 25 wards from 47 for the October election to continue - and warned he could use this extra-ordinary power again but declined to say when.

"Second to Toronto, the number one amount of calls-because I give my cell number to absolutely everyone-is from the Ottawa and Ottawa region talking about that but, for now, we're going to leave well enough alone", Ford said.

"It allows a government to pass a law that does something that the courts have said violates rights and is not justified", said University of Ottawa associate law professor Michael Pal on CTV News Channel.

No one should be astonished Ontario Premier Doug Ford plans to use the Canadian Constitution's notwithstanding clause to wiggle out of a judge's scathing ruling declaring his hurried and sloppy legislation to cut Toronto City Council from 47 to 25 members to be unconstitutional.

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

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.

Some premiers, most notably Saskatchewan New Democrat Allan Blakeney and Alberta Progressive Conservative Peter Lougheed, anxious that a constitutionally entrenched Charter could, as in the US, prevent legislators from enacting socially useful legislation. "Waiting an additional four years to reduce the size of city council is a missed opportunity to save taxpayers money".

A number of Toronto city councillors also applauded the judgement.


At his press conference, Ford complained to reporters that a "democratically elected government" is being "shut down by the courts".

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam tweeted that an appeal for the province would be a "steep uphill climb". First, candidates who had already chose to run under the old system were deeply impacted.

Horwath accused Ford of exacting revenge on those who opposed him when he was councillor.

"You can't change the rules in the middle of a game".

Holyday said if the matter isn't settled soon, and carries over into the new term of council, it could impact the municipal government's ability to get work done as politics will trump policy-making.

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.

With charter negotiations ramping up in the early 1980s, Trudeau didn't see the need for the clause, but provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan wanted an out should they disagree with a decision of the courts.

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.

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

Likewise, observers outside Toronto City Hall expressed alarm and concern over Ford's "authoritarian streak", flashes of "despotism" and petty "personal beefs".

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