LILLEY: Supreme Court backs Ford’s slashing of Toronto City Council seats

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The Supreme Court has ruled the Ford government’s decision to pass legislation cutting the size of Toronto City Council in half was in fact constitutional.


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What’s amazing is that this was a 5-4 decision with four justices ignoring the plain meaning of the words in front of them and buying into the wild ideas put forward by the city.

Back in the summer of 2018, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that rather than have City Council grow to 47 councillors, he would bring in legislation to reduce council’s size to 25 seats. The new wards would mirror the federal and provincial ridings and the change would take effect in that fall’s election.

The NDP wing of City Hall erupted in outrage.

There was no consultation! This was undemocratic! This was a violation of the constitution!

The city quickly appealed and won at lower court, but that decision was overturned by an Appeals Court decision that made clear the previous appeal ruling was well off the mark. Now, we have the 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court upholding the position that the province was well within the law, the Constitution and its rights to change ward boundaries.


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This is made explicitly clear in section 92 of the constitution which states: “In each province the Legislature may exclusively make laws in relation to matters coming within the classes of subjects next hereinafter enumerated.” Within the list of enumerated subjects that the province has sole jurisdiction over, “Municipal institutions in the province.”

Knowing this, the city went ahead with their court case anyway, even against their own legal advice.

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To mount their appeal, the city tried to claim that by changing the ward boundaries the province was violating the Charter rights of candidates and voters. Specifically, the city argued the move violated Section 2b of the Charter, the section that says everyone has fundamental freedoms, including “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”


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The argument was that changing the rules and giving candidates just 69 days to convince voters violated free expression. It’s not just me who finds this argument lacking, the majority decision — penned by Chief Justice Wagner and Justice Brown — also dismissed this idea, in fact, dismissed all of the city’s arguments.

“None of these arguments have merit, and we would dismiss the city’s appeal. In our view, the province acted constitutionally,” the justices wrote.

They also dismissed concerns over the short amount of time between when the changes were made and voting day.

“The candidates and their supporters had 69 days — longer than most federal and provincial election campaigns — to re-orient their messages and freely express themselves according to the new ward structure,” the majority stated.


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We’ve just come through a 36-day federal election campaign, due to legislation passed by the Trudeau Liberals it would actually be illegal to run a 69-day federal campaign. If the federal government can be elected with a short campaign, then there is no reason the same can’t happen at the city level.

The decision should be the end of this but already councilors are upset. Paul Fletcher called the decision sad while Mike Colle called it disgusting.

These are people who would have fought Ford if he had increased council simply because they oppose everything he does.

Ever since Ford made his changes to City Council, I’ve heard from people in Ottawa, Hamilton, London and elsewhere who wish he would do the same for their region, cut the number of politicians. Niagara Region has 125 local politicians for a population of 450,000 and is an area Ford should consider cutting.

Now that this court case is settled, maybe he can make those other changes before the next municipal election.


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