Top court to hear fight over Premier Doug Ford’s deep cuts to Toronto council

TORONTO — Canada’s highest court agreed on Thursday to hear Toronto’s challenge to a unilateral decision by Ontario Premier Doug Ford that slashed the size of city council midway through the last municipal election.

The legislation nearly two years ago cut the number of council seats to 25 from 47 and sparked widespread anger from critics who denounced it as undemocratic and a vindictive measure from Ford, a failed mayoral candidate and one-term councillor under his late brother, former mayor Rob Ford.

“Ontario’s position in the Supreme Court of Canada will be that the decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario should be upheld,” Jenessa Crognali, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Doug Downey, said in a statement. “As this matter is before the court, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Through a spokesman, Toronto Mayor John Tory thanked the court for taking on the case.

“There are serious legal issues to be addressed in this matter and the mayor is gratified the court recognized that,” Don Peat said.

It’s unclear when the case might be argued. The top court has, in line with most other public services, sharply curtailed its activities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Peat said he expected the hearing would only happen “well after this emergency is over.”

At the time of the legislation, the then-rookie premier defended his action as a necessary streamlining that would save $25 million,.

The city initial won a victory when a Superior Court justice found the law unconstitutional. Justice Edward Belobaba ruled the legislation infringed on the free-expression rights of candidates by affecting their ability to campaign. He also said it ran afoul of voters’ rights by stopping them from casting a ballot that could result in effective representation.

The legislation, Belobaba said in his ruling, “undermined an otherwise fair and equitable election process” and the Ford government had “clearly crossed the line” into undemocratic territory.

With Ford threatening to invoke the charter’s notwithstanding clause, the province won a stay of the ruling and the election proceeded under the new legislation while it appealed.

The act is a “meaningful, proportionate measure to address the dysfunction caused by having too many councillors — ungoverned by party discipline,” the province said in its arguments to the Court of Appeal. “A smaller council can operate more effectively as a deliberative body, with a lower burden on city staff.”

For its part, the city wanted Ontario’s top court to let the 2018 election results stand until the next vote in 2022 but strike down the legislation — known as the Better Local Government Act — as unconstitutional. Among other arguments, it said the legislation violated unwritten constitutional principles of democracy.

“A province does not have the power (under the Constitution) to enact legislation that makes the election of a democratically elected municipal government undemocratic,” the city argued.

In its 3-2 decision last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned Belobaba’s ruling, saying the sudden legislation did not interfere with either candidates’ or voters’ ability to express themselves freely.

The right to free expression, Justice Bradley Miller wrote for the majority five-judge panel, did not amount to a right to effective or successful expression. Two judges dissented, however, saying they would have struck the law down. The legislation, they said, did indeed interfere with the free-expression rights of candidates.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2020.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Toronto

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP investigate possible drowning at Pigeon Lake: Man and woman found dead on shore

Bodies recovered from Pigeon Lake’s northeastern shores.

Red Deer Region Highland Dancing Association to participate in national dance-a-thon

Central Albertan dancers have missed performing during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the… Continue reading

Maskwacis teen charged in 10-year-old boy’s death

The RCMP Major Crimes Unit have laid a manslaughter charge against a 13-year-old boy from Maskwacis.

Still no mandatory masks in Red Deer

While a growing number of Alberta communities have made masks mandatory, the… Continue reading

Cast your votes for Best of Red Deer

The Advocate’s Best of Red Deer Readers’ Choice Awards are back. Community… Continue reading

69 salmonella cases in B.C. linked to red onions, province’s CDC says

VANCOUVER — The BC Centre for Disease Control is warning people in… Continue reading

Puncher’s chance: Fighting is up during unique NHL playoffs

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was hanging by a thread from one… Continue reading

Quebec festivals organizers look to innovate as restrictions loosened

Montreal has been having its quietest summer in recent memory, as COVID-19… Continue reading

COVID-19 outbreaks over in federal prisons, staff preparing for ‘new normal’

COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada’s federal prisons have been declared over, and staff… Continue reading

Canada to match donations to Lebanon relief

OTTAWA — The federal government will match all individual donations from Canadians… Continue reading

Protests in Beirut amid public fury over massive blast

BEIRUT — Police fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators in Lebanon’s… Continue reading

Most Read