Bill to cut Toronto Council is challenged in court; candidates argue they had right to register and run in election under known rules (updated)

9:12 a.m., Aug. 31, 2018. 361 University Avenue court house, where the hearing on legality and constitutionality of Bill 5, the Better Local Governments Act, is being heard.
9:12 a.m., Aug. 31, 2018. 361 University Ave. court house, where the hearing on legality and constitutionality of Bill 5, the Better Local Governments Act, is being heard.

Aug. 31, 2018 (updated)

By Arianne Robinson

Legal arguments in the court challenge over the constitutionality of Bill 5 were presented in a Toronto Superior Court on Friday.

Lawyers representing the candidates, electors, and the City of Toronto argued the new legislation does not achieve effective representation and that democratic principles are violated.

On the opposing side, lawyers for the province responded with arguments that the provincial Conservative government did not act outside of its own powers when it changed the number of wards from the planned 47 to 25 on August 14, 2018.

Those lawyers for the province repeated that municipalities and the elected representatives are creatures of the province and that there are only two levels of government (provincial and federal), and not three, and therefore the provincial government has the right to change the size of council.

“Effective representation, in this case, is not a constitutionally entrenched right, it’s a policy decision,” Yashoda Ranganathan, a lawyer for the province, argued. “The entire policy of voter parity, making that the focus, is a policy decision that the legislature’s entitled to make.”

The lawyers for the candidates, electors and city argued that the law violates principles of democracy and impair effective representation, saying it’s absolutely wrong to change the rules of the election two-thirds of the way through the process.

“Candidates who registered, they have a right to register under known rules and continue the game under those rules,” Gavin Magrath, a lawyer for council candidate Rocco Achampong, argued. “One of [the opposing lawyers] mentioned the [idea of] children on the school playground who would clearly recognize a change in rules midstream as unfair, and this isn’t a playground but it is a place where they’re entitled to procedural fairness.”

Justice Edward Belobaba started the day saying he is aiming to have his decision ready by September 10 or 11 – days before the nomination period for the 25-ward election closes.

Earlier in August at a special council meeting, the city clerk’s election staff said they “did the impossible” in preparing 25 wards after bill was legislated. “My staff and I have worked 18 hours for the last three weeks,” Fiona Murray, the city’s Deputy City Clerk of Election Services, said.

At that special meeting, council passed a motion to postpone the October 22 municipal election if necessary.