Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson is expressing his support for the city of Toronto as the Ontario government invokes the notwithstanding clause to reduce the size of Toronto’s city council.
In a statement, Iveson said he was supporting Toronto on behalf of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Big City Mayor’s Caucus, “to protect local democracy,” and he called the Ontario government’s move “unprecedented.”
“Canadians are now stuck in a constitutional debate, when we have not even tested the limits of how governments can work together within the constitution. The levers to modernize the relationship already exist,” Iveson wrote.
If the legislation is passed, it will reduce the number of council seats in Toronto to 25 from 47 for the city’s upcoming municipal election.
On Monday, Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba said in a ruling that Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government interfered with the right to freedom of expression for both candidates and voters when the province initially passed the law last month.
Following the decision, Ford said his government would appeal the decision, reintroduce the legislation and invoke the notwithstanding clause, known as Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to push through the council cuts.
“I believe the judge’s decision is deeply concerning and the result is unacceptable to the people of Ontario,” Ford said on Monday. “A democratically elected government, trying to be shut down by the courts, that concerns me more than anything.”
Iveson, who is the chair of the Big City Mayor’s Caucus, wants municipalities to have opportunities to have discussions with the provincial and federal governments about issues that impact cities before decisions are made.
“Certainly, there is nothing unconstitutional about sitting down together to talk about solving problems, funding cities’ mandates directly, and creating a forum where municipal governments address our nation’s challenges with their provincial and federal counterparts as equals,” Iveson wrote.
“Mayors are pragmatists. Every day, municipal governments are delivering city-based solutions to national challenges, from economic productivity to public safety. And increasingly, Canadians expect us to share the lead on emerging challenges — from stemming the opioid crisis, to building innovative economies, to settling new Canadians in our communities.”
On Thursday morning, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley also addressed the issue. Notley said using the notwithstanding clause in such a manner that uproots the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The notion of displacing them in order to justify the decision to change the rules in the middle of an election campaign – regardless of what level of government that you’re speaking about – is not what people intended and doesn’t reflect the spirit and the support that most Canadians have for our Charter, our Constitution and these fundamental Canadian values,” she said.
The notwithstanding clause has never previously been used in Ontario.
Toronto’s municipal election is scheduled for Oct. 22.
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