Doug Ford Overrules Provincial Judge Over Toronto Council Size


There were certainly grounds for the Ford government to appeal Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba's ruling that Ford's sloppy legislation violated Torontonians' freedom of expression, providing constitutional grounds to overturn it.

"We've made a lot of decisions over the years politically", Ford said, "and I've never made a decision that was so popular than this decision".

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also took aim at Ford, calling his decision to use the notwithstanding clause an "unprecedented abuse of power".

Liberal Leader John Fraser urged Ford to abide by the ruling and stop meddling in municipal politics.

"I believe this decision is deeply concerning and wrong and the result is unacceptable to the people of Ontario", Ford said. "I was elected by 2.3 million voters".

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". "These councillors worry about themselves and holding on to power".

Alas for advocates of this approach, Section 33 only applies to fundamental freedoms, legal rights and equality rights, so it can not be used to overturn the Federal Court's TMX ruling, which hinged on the lack of proper consultation with First Nations along the route and the need to study its potential impact on marine wildlife.

"It is the people who will be the ultimate judges of our performance".

Bill 5 slashed the size of Toronto's city council from 47 seats to 25 despite the fact that the campaign for the October 22 election was already underway.

The second Charter flaw, according to the judge, was that the bill "doubled the size of City of Toronto wards from an average of 61,000 to an average of 111,000".

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"It breached the municipal voter's right to cast a ballot in effective representation", said Belobaba.

Belobaba ordered an election resume with 47 wards, returning the campaign to a state before the Tories passed Bill 5 at Queen's Park. "The province has clearly crossed the line".

Bill 5 also cancelled planned elections for the head of council position in the regional municipalities of Muskoka, Peel, York and Niagara, turning them into appointed roles.

If the drama around Bill 5 were related to the voting rights laid out in Section 3, Ford and the Tories would've been unable to use the notwithstanding clause.

According to a Library of Parliament paper last revised in 2018, opinion has been largely divided on the mechanism since its creation, with many prominent legal figures raising concerns with how the clause would be used. For instance, former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives were asked about, but refused to use, the clause on a court decision involving assisted dying. "This has been used only a handful of times across this country".

"I appreciate his support for democratic principles, democratic institutions, and the importance of respecting cities", Tory said on Twitter.

Ford had said in the past that Ottawa and Toronto city councils are not comparable, calling the comparison one of apples to oranges.

He is "literally suspending the Charter of Rights of the Ontario people in order to plough ahead with his revenge plot against his political enemies at Toronto city hall." said Horwath.

That's exactly what the Progressive Conservatives are going to do now - and there's really nothing, at this point, that anyone can do to stop them from passing a successor to Bill 5 before the end of the month. But his ruling was very almost the best-case scenario for Toronto's advocates - and thanks to the notwithstanding clause, it still wasn't enough.