Toronto city council voted overwhelmingly to ask the federal government to stop Ontario legislation which would reduce the size of council.
Council voted 26-10 in favour of challenging Bill 31, dubbed the Efficient Local Government Act, in court and 24-12 in favour of requesting the federal government to exercise the power of Disallowance and to “preserve respect for fundamental rights and freedoms provided for in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
A provision of the Constitution technically permits the federal government to disallow provincial legislation, but the provision was last used in 1943, raising questions in legal circles about whether it has become obsolete.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it clear he won’t try to block Premier Doug Ford’s move even though he is disappointed with the premier’s decision.
“Rather than pausing and appealing, the province is pushing ahead now, including the extraordinary and unacceptable act of invoking the notwithstanding clause, overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for the first time in the history of Ontario,” said Mayor Tory. “I firmly believe you don’t make a bad law better by overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
“A majority of councillors joined me in registering our objection to that and renewed our instructions to our lawyers to continue to pursue this through legal channels.”
The city challenged the provincial legislation – known as Bill 5 – in court and a Toronto judge agreed earlier this week that passing the bill in the middle of municipal election campaign violated the freedom of expression rights of both candidates and voters.
However, Ford quickly announced he would take the unprecedented step of invoking a constitutional provision to override the ruling.
On Wednesday, the new bill passed the first reading in the legislature at Queen’s Park despite protest in the public gallery. New Democrats were later booted from the house as they attempted to drown out the reading of the bill.
The bill would see the size of city council be cut from 47 seats to 25.
The city’s request comes as municipal staff say ensuring a fair election next month is becoming virtually impossible.
“At this point, voters don’t even know which ward they live in,” city clerk Ulli Watkiss told the sitting members of council at an emergency meeting at city hall on Thursday.
The municipal election is still scheduled to take place on Oct. 22 despite a back and forth battle between the city and province over ward boundaries.
The ongoing battle has left many candidates saying they are unsure how to prepare. Two city councillors – Glenn De Baeremaeker and Sarah Doucette – have already said they would not be running for re-election under a 25 Ward system.
“Every hour that goes by, every day that goes by creates greater uncertainty, and raises in me a huge concern over the proper conduct of this election,” Watkiss said.
“I have to let council know that.”
Watkiss said that goes for both Ward boundary scenarios.
One prominent voice in city council was noticeably absent from the emergency meeting.
Giorgio Mammoliti said he is boycotting the session.
“At the end of the day, this thing is done and instead of sitting in the circle and sucking their thumbs and crying, what they should be doing is knocking on doors and getting themselves elected,” he said.