The fight between the province and the City of Toronto over the size of its municipal council is one that should concern all residents of Ontario.
First, if the province can pass a law (Bill 5) that unilaterally slashes the size of Toronto city council by nearly half (47 seats to 25), it can do the same with any other municipality in the province—and residents bascially have no say in the matter. That's a scary thought in itself.
But the real concern lies much deeper.
A judge struck down Bill 5 in a ruling released Monday morning, arguing it was unconstitutional. “There is no evidence that any other options or approaches were considered or that any consultation ever took place," Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba wrote. "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 that principle.”
Rather than accept that decision, however, Premier Doug Ford promptly announced he would invoke the rarely-used notwithstanding clause in the Constitution to allow him to bypass the ruling and forge ahead with his plan to slash the size of Toronto council. In fact, the premier was expected to recall the legislature today to reintroduce the bill.
Premier Ford also has vowed to appeal Monday's ruling, alleging the court was interfering with a democratically-elected government.
“What's extraordinary is a democratically-elected government being tried to be shut down by the courts. . . ." he said Monday. "That should be concerning to every single person in Ontario.”
No, Premier Ford, you have it wrong. What should be concerning to every single person in Ontario is that a government is willing to trample on people's constitutional and Charter rights to forward its own agenda. That is precisely what the courts are mandated to do—provide a necessary “check and balance” on a government when its decisions cross the line.
All of which is especially important given Premier Ford says he “wouldn't be shy” about using the notwithstanding clause again in the future to get his way.
The province overstepped its boundaries by wading into Toronto's municipal election out of the blue and right in the middle of the campaign, which Justice Belobaba rightly said interfered with the right to freedom of expression for both candidates and voters.
The real blunder, though, is Premier Ford's decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause in this case. All Ontarians should be appalled at this blatant example of abuse of power and stand up to stop it.