Judge strikes down bill to reduce Toronto council size

Toronto City Council chambers CITYNEWS

The Belobaba accepted arguments from city lawyers, who contended that reducing the number of councillors in the middle of an election is "discriminatory and arbitrary", and violates the charter. "I find that the reduction from 47 to 25 in the number of City wards and the corresponding increase in ward-size population from an average of about 61,000 to 111, 000 substantially interfered with the municipal voter's freedom of expression under s. 2 (b) of the Charter of Rights, and in particular her right to cast a vote that can result in effective representation", the judge said in his written decision.

He said he still wants 25 councillors to run in the next election.

"Democracy does not belong to a few of us, it belongs to all of us", he said.

Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), said in a statement that the CTF is "disappointed" in the courts decision.

Premier Doug Ford vowed Monday to be the first political leader in Ontario to use extraordinary constitutional powers to complete his mission to downsize Toronto council.

Far too many of city council's members already don't take seriously enough themselves, their government or their city.

It was in July that Ford's newly-elected government announced it would enact legislation to reduce the number of city wards and councillors from 47 to 25, in the process nearly doubling the ward populations.

Last June, District of Muskoka councillors voted in favour of the public election method over having council select the district chair in-house.

The council-cutting legislation passed late last month and aligned the city's ward map with federal ridings in time for the October 22 municipal election.

Ford said he'd be recalling the legislature this week to introduce legislation that will invoke the notwithstanding clause, 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. He said he's heard from many Toronto residents who are confused by the actions of the province. "He can't invoke the notwithstanding clause over an election, 25 seats or 47 seats".

To this end he cited a single professor's affidavit as to the awful overwork city councillors allegedly already suffer.

This was never a fight the premier needed to pick, and it's hardly the fault of the attorney general's office that the government's lawyers failed to convincingly defend a bill that was slapped together in a hurry with no evidence that it was needed: Belobaba found that, despite the premier's repeated assertions to the contrary, there was no evidence that council is "dysfunctional".

To me, that lends credence to the argument by Ford's critics that this is really about Ford settling scores with Tory and city council, from his own days at City Hall.

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.

"This is good news for local democracy and to unfair government interference with election", Layton tweeted.

"Invoking the notwithstanding clause in a case like this is an unprecedented move, literally suspending the Charter rights of Ontario people in order to plow ahead with his revenge plot against his political enemies at Toronto City Hall", said Horwath.

Ontario's Superior Court delivered a damning decision Monday, ruling Ford's gerrymandering law is undemocratic and unconstitutional.

But, if Ford gets his way by forcing a reversal, it's not clear if there will be an opportunity for those who have not yet signed up to register in the 25-ward race.

"It's not as if candidates who were running in Scarborough will now be running downtown", he said.

"We encourage the Ford government to appeal this decision immediately".

"I don't object to rulings being sarcastic or spicy if they expose the flaws in particularly government thinking when a right's at stake, but this is basically bringing in Twitter snark into a judgment and it did nothing to add to the judge's logic", he told HuffPost Canada Monday.