Two days after an Ontario judge set aside a provincial law to dramatically cut the size of Toronto city council, the Doug Ford government is scheduled to retable the same legislation while invoking the notwithstanding clause.
Officials announced earlier this week that the Ontario legislature is being recalled on Wednesday in order for the government reintroduce the Better Local Government Act, also known as Bill 5, which if passed, would reduce the number of council seats to 25 from 47 in the upcoming municipal election.
“We’re going to hold up democracy,” said Ford, as he arrived at Queen’s Park Wednesday morning.
On Monday, Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba said in a ruling that the Progressive Conservative government interfered with the right to freedom of expression for both candidates and voters when the province passed the law last month.
Belobaba found the reduction of wards in the middle of the Toronto election substantially interfered with municipal voters’ freedom of expression and the “right to cast a vote that can result in effective representation.”
Hours after Belobaba’s ruling was released, Ford announced during a news conference that the government would appeal the decision while also calling MPPs back to the legislature to reintroduce the act.
Ford said the legislation would invoke the notwithstanding clause, known as Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives provincial legislatures or Parliament the ability, through the passage of a law, to override certain portions of the Charter for a five-year term. It is a clause that has never been used in Ontario.
One of the lingering questions after Belobaba’s decision is how it will impact Toronto councillor and trustee candidates. The nomination period for candidates was extended to Sept. 14 last month when Bill 5 passed.
However, the city clerk cancelled that deadline and reverted back to certified nominations under the previous 47-ward model. That decision potentially eliminates many prospective candidates, including several incumbent councillors who planned to run for reelection, from filing their papers.
As of late Tuesday, it was unclear if the nomination deadline for candidates to register under the 25-ward model will be extended.
Meanwhile, Toronto city council is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss how to respond to provincial government’s decision to reintroduce the Better Local Government Act.
Election day in Toronto is scheduled for Oct. 22.
— With files from The Canadian Press
Read Justice Edward Belobaba’s full decision below.