Following weeks of uncertainty — and considerable discord between Queen’s Park and Toronto City Hall — a court ruling has cleared the way for the introduction of a 25-seat Toronto council.
On Wednesday, with a little over a month to go before Toronto heads to the polls, the Ontario Court of Appeal sided with the provincial government in granting a stay of a lower court’s ruling against Bill 5. The legislation passed last month would see the size of Toronto council slashed by 22 seats.
Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba struck down that bill on constitutional grounds on Sept. 10, but Premier Doug Ford sought an appeal, and drew up a new bill, invoking the rarely used notwithstanding clause of the Charter, in order to override the ruling.
Following Wednesday’s decision, however, the government has indicated that there’s no need for that legislation to proceed.
Here’s a look at what’s happened in the battle over the size of Toronto council:
- July 26: Media outlets, including Global News, learned that the Ontario government was poised to introduce legislation to drastically cut the size of Toronto City Council.
- July 27: Premier Doug Ford made the news official. He said the plan to reduce Toronto council down to 25 seats ahead of the Oct. 22 vote — making the municipal wards align with the federal and provincial ridings — would streamline the decision-making process at city hall and save $25 million. The move drew sharp criticism from many councillors, including Mayor John Tory, though others supported it. Ford also announced intentions to halt elections for chair of Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka as part of the same legislation.
- July 29: Toronto lawyer and election candidate Rocco Achampong said he’s initiating legal action seeking a decision on the constitutionality of the premier’s plan.
- July 30: Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act, gets a first reading at the Ontario legislature.
- Aug. 14: The bill passed second and third readings and received royal assent.
- Aug. 20: Toronto council votes 27 to 15 to proceed with a legal challenge on Bill 5. Another legal challenge is launched by Chris Moise, Ish Aderonmu and Prabha Khosla.
- Aug. 28: In court filings, lawyers for the city argued the provincial government’s decision to introduce sweeping reforms to Toronto ward boundaries during the election campaign violates constitutional freedoms.
- Aug. 29: The Toronto District School Board said it voted to support the city in its legal challenge. The board was granted intervenor status in the case.
- Aug. 30: The government argued the challenge has no merit.
- Aug. 31: At Ontario Superior Court, Justice Edward Belobaba said a ruling could be expected by the second week of this month.
- Sept. 10: In his ruling, Belobaba said that in passing the Better Local Government Act, the Tories “crossed the line” and interfered with the right to freedom of expression for candidates as well as voters.
- Following the ruling, the City of Toronto said it would proceed with the election under the original 47-seat model, with advance polls opening on Oct. 10.
- At an afternoon press conference, Ford condemned the ruling and said the government will re-introduce Bill 5, invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in order to get around it. He said MPPs would be recalled immediately and the legislation will be put to a vote in time for the election to go ahead as scheduled on Oct. 22. Ford also said the government would seek an appeal.
- In response to Ford’s announcement, Tory said the city will fight any request by the provincial government to stay the judge’s ruling pending an appeal. A special council meeting regarding the election was scheduled.
- In an interview with Global News Radio 640 Toronto, Ford claimed that the Toronto council decision has widespread support, and stoked speculation he has his eye set on Ottawa next. “I’ve never made a decision that was so popular,” he said.
- Sept. 12: A new piece of legislation featuring the Bill 5 changes, Bill 31, the Efficient Local government Act, was introduced during a wild day at the legislature that saw some members of the public gallery led away in handcuffs and several NDP MPPs ejected from the chamber.
- Sept. 13: Toronto City Council held an emergency meeting on the election, in which City Clerk Ulli Watkiss said it’s becoming “virtually impossible” to run a fair, accessible election in either seat configuration. Council voted to challenge the new bill and keep fighting the former one.
- Sept. 17: Amid protests outside Queen’s Park, legislators pulled an all-nighter in the rush to pass Bill 31.
- Sept. 18: Ontario’s Court of Appeal heard arguments from lawyers on both sides on the matter of staying Justice Belobaba’s ruling against Bill 5. Meanwhile, a public opinion poll, from Mainstreet, suggested the province’s use of the notwithstanding clause is unpopular with 65 per cent of Toronto residents.
- Sept. 19: Another poll, from Ipsos, found that in Toronto, the rest of the province and elsewhere in Canada, a majority of those surveyed said they disagree more with how the provincial government has gone about reducing the size of council, rather than the end result of that policy.
- At 10 a.m., a three-judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal granted a stay of the original ruling, paving the way for a 25-seat election on Oct. 22. The judges wrote that “It is not in the public interest to permit the impending election to proceed on the basis of a dubious ruling that invalidates legislation duly passed by the legislature.”
- Reacting to the news, mayor Tory said that the decision provides clarity, though he continues to oppose the provincial policy. He said the government’s actions “are unfair, they are unnecessary and they are unprecedented.”
— With files from Global News and The Canadian Press