Tory slams Ford's use of the notwithstanding clause to halt court ruling

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In a decision handed down early Monday, Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba said Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives interfered with the right to freedom of expression for both candidates and voters when the province enacted the Better Local Government Act last month.

A judge has struck down provincial legislation that would have cut the size of Toronto city council almost in half in the middle of an election. City lawyers argued that making the cuts during an election period was "discriminatory and arbitrary", while the province's lawyers argued that municipalities can not override decisions made by the provincial government about their affairs.

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.

The decision has no effect on Bill 5's cancelling of regional chair elections in other municipalities.

In light of the ruling, a spokesperson for the city confirmed Monday that the election will proceed as scheduled on October 22 on the basis of 47 wards.

"You don't change the rules in the middle of an election campaign".

Toronto city staff said they will proceed with the election on the basis of a 47-ward structure.

Jennifer McKelvie, a candidate running east of Toronto, was knocking on doors Tuesday outside of what would have been the ward she meant to run in for the 47-seat system.

"To use an oversized hammer to abridge the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of our country, as if the matter of how many councillors we have for this election is some sort of national emergency involving the overriding of fundamental rights, is a mistake", he said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that he will be invoking [Global News report] the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to supersede the court's decision.

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"Now that the court decision has been issued, I think it is extremely important that we hear from the premier and the government of Ontario and from other Ontario legislative leaders (on) why a reduction in the size of the city council in the middle of an election campaign is more important than considering such change... at a different time and in a much different manner?"

Samantha Beattie is a city hall reporter based in Toronto.

Belobaba had said he planned to rule on the case by the second week of September because of the looming municipal election, and acknowledged he expected the losing party would likely appeal. Indeed, Premier Ford said he is prepared to use the notwithstanding clause again - leaving the clear impression that it will be his preferred response to any judicial setbacks.

"This is simply an unfortunate byproduct from a province that makes up policy on the fly, but, in Toronto, cooler heads prevail".

"When Doug Ford tried to ram through this bill, he tried to silence newcomers to the political process and underrepresented voices", CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn said in a statement.

"This is good news for local democracy and to unfair government interference with election", Layton tweeted. "For not only councillors, but frankly residents of our city to understand what the new rules are, what the new timelines are, what the new wards are". Kristyn Wong-Tam said many council candidates held off registering in the 25-ward system pending the outcome of the court case.

"I believe this decision is deeply concerning and wrong and the result is unacceptable to the people of Ontario", concluded Ford. In the 25-ward council, the boundaries extend into new neighbourhoods where she and her team are now deploying resources. "(It) has to be, 'judges have a mandate to overturn unconstitutional laws, but that in this particular instance we disagree with the constitutional reasoning'".

"This ruling on Bill 5 establishes a strong role for the judiciary during times when autocratic governments feel they can just ram through unjust laws", Coun.

She added that she is certain the judge would have crafted his ruling to withstand an appeal.

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