Court rules Ford government’s 25-ward law has no force; Ford vows to fight with an appeal before Oct. election

Sept. 10, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

Premier Doug Ford announced on Monday that his government is challenging a decision by Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba that rules the size of Toronto Council will continue as 47 wards.

The decision was on the constitutionality of Bill 5, the provincial law that changed the number of wards and councillors from 47 to 25. The bill radically shook up Toronto’s municipal election process once the candidate nomination had already started in May and ended at the end of July.

Belobaba found Ford’s law to be unconstitutional for two key reasons. One, freedom of expression is understood as a two-way political political process that involves the rights of candidates and voters and, in this case, those rights were violated. Two, the timing and legal justification for the Progressive Conservative government’s law to cut council three months after the administration of the election had begun is not “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society,” as stated in the Charter.

On freedom of expression for the candidate, Belobaba writes, “The candidates’ efforts to convey their political message about the issues in their particular ward were severely frustrated and disrupted. Some candidates persevered; others dropped out of the race entirely. There can be no doubt on the evidence before the court that Bill 5 substantially interfered with the candidate’s ability to effectively communicate his or her political message to the relevant voters.”

Belobaba states the 25-ward law was passed more than three months after the election period had begun thereby infringing on the candidates’ rights, and changed the numbers in each ward so drastically (on average, almost twice the number of those represented) that it breached the voter’s right to effective representation in the context that they expect to be able to access their city councillor.

“Recall what the Supreme Court said in [the decision named “Reference re Provincial Electoral Boundaries (Sask.)”] about how effective representation includes ‘the right to bring one’s grievances and concerns to the attention of one’s government representative,’” Belobaba writes in the decision. “This right must obviously be a meaningful right. This is particularly relevant in the context of the councillor’s role in a mega-city like Toronto.”

In response, Ford told media on Monday afternoon that his government will be acting swiftly to override the court’s decision using another section of the charter, speaking passionately against city councillors.

“Politicians and special activists are protecting their own jobs. These councillors, they don’t worry about you folks, they worry about themselves, that’s what they worry about. I worry about the people, they worry about holding onto power, and the government can run a lot more efficiently with 25 elected councillors just like we’re running federally and provincially than they can with 47,” Ford said Monday afternoon.

As for using the section of the Charter commonly referred to as the “notwithstanding clause” that allows the Ontario Provincial Conservative government to change council to 25 wards for the 2018 election, Ford said his government will use the powers available to them.

“Let me be very clear. We will only move our mandate forward if it’s within the constitution. We vetted this upside down, sideways, backwards – every constitutional expert in this country agreed with us… Something’s wrong here and it’s actually concerning and the people should be concerned…” Ford said.

“But, that’s the courts, and I respect the courts, and the courts use every tool in their toolbox to make this happen. Well, guess what? I’m going to use every tool at our disposal to make sure we hold up the constitution and that democratic right of the people of Ontario, and I will not waiver from representing the people… the people elected a government and that government is going to serve the people.”

Mayor John Tory responded to Ford’s announcement on Monday, saying it was not acceptable to him or the people of Toronto and calling for a special council meeting this Thursday.

“We need to get on with this election because there are real issues that people want city council and Queen’s Park to deal with: transit, housing, taxes, community safety, jobs. Toronto can’t afford to get bogged down in endless constitutional squabbing and neither can the government of Ontario.”

Tory went on to speak about the importance of the values upheld in Belobaba’s decision.

“I think the people of Toronto and the people of Canada hold their Charter rights very dear. I think they understand the importance of those rights in the context of how we live here in this city and in this country and within the context as well of our democratic system.”