Judge overturns province’s bill to cut size of city council

A judge has struck down provincial legislation that would have cut the size of Toronto city council nearly in half.

In his ruling, Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba concluded that the province’s Bill 5, titled the Better Local Government Act, “substantially interfered” with both the municipal candidate and voter’s “freedom of expression” guaranteed in the Charter of Rights.

“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 continued in his written decision.

The legislation would have reduced the number of city councillors in the city to 25 and today’s ruling, which can be appealed by the province, means that the upcoming municipal election in the city will proceed with the planned 47 wards.

The deadline for candidates to register was previously extended to Sept. 14 after the Better Local Government Act was tabled but it is not clear how this ruling or a potential appeal will impact the application process or the date of the election.

“If the provincial government wishes to enact another Bill 5-type law at some future date to affect future City elections, it may certainly attempt to do so. As things now stand – and until a constitutionally valid provincial law says otherwise – the City has 47 wards,” Belobaba wrote.

Bill 5, which was given royal assent last month, sparked a legal challenge from the City of Toronto with many councillors arguing that the legislation was undemocratic.

Ford contended that reducing the size of council will make the city run more efficiently, ending unnecessarily lengthy debates at city hall.

A source confirms that Ford intends to appeal Belobaba’s ruling and the premier is expected to speak about the decision at noon today.

Councillors react to ruling

Many city councillors applauded the judge’s decision, including Coun. Paula Fletcher, who called it a “victory for democracy.”

“Introducing and passing Bill 5 would have reduced Toronto City Council to 25 sets doubling the number of residents to be served in every ward and lessening the ability of voters to receive effective representation and service from their elected councillors. It is inexcusable that the Ford government targeted only the city of Toronto for these dramatic changes,” Fletcher said in a written statement released Monday.

“Hopefully this win for democracy will be respected by Premier Ford and his government members so that the City of Toronto can proceed with its democratic elections this fall.”

Coun. Mike Layton said he hopes the ruling serves as a “lesson” to Doug Ford and his government.

“This is good news for local democracy and to unfair government interference with election,” Layton tweeted. “Duty to consult is real and we WILL fight back.”

Coun. Josh Matlow also celebrated the victory in a social media post on Monday.

“We took a stand for democracy and justice. And we won,” he tweeted.

Mayor John Tory is expected to address the ruling at a news conference at 9:30 a.m.

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