Judge strikes down bill to reduce Toronto council size

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The move comes after a judge ruled earlier on Monday not to allow the province to cut Toronto city council by almost half because it would have "substantially interfered with both the candidate's and the voter's right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under section 2 (b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms".

Justice Belobaba found the Better Local Government Act, also known as Bill 5, infringed freedom of expression in two respects.

There are 23 council wards in Ottawa and still will be on October 22, when the city votes.

City lawyers contended that reducing the number of councillors in the middle of an election was "discriminatory and arbitrary", and violated the charter - arguments Belobaba accepted.

Bill 5 would have cut council from 47 seats to 25 seats.

Ford's use of the notwithstanding clause, which gives provincial legislatures or Parliament the ability to override certain portions of the charter for a five-year term, drew swift condemnation from critics, who said the size of Toronto's city council was not the kind of issue the constitutional provision was created to deal with.

"The province has clearly crossed the line", said Belobaba.

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Belobaba's ruling is already a dead letter, however, because on Monday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford told reporters that he would call the legislature back into session to pass a presumably identical successor to Bill 5, this time while invoking the so-called notwithstanding clause of the Charter - that is, Section 33, which allows the legislature to pass a law "notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter".

Of course, in addition to the usual misleading squeals about "activist judges", Ford's supporters in the news media, the Astroturf sector, and on social media were confidently shouting the opposite - that Canadians trust legislatures over the courts.

His plan wasn't outlined during the province's spring election campaign or mentioned in the throne speech, but the premier, a failed Toronto mayoral candidate and single-term city councillor, said he had wanted to make the change since his days at city hall.

However, legal counsel for protesters in B.C. might get some value from trying to have the injunction set aside, seeing as the permits have now been ruled not to be legal.

"We took a stand for democracy and justice".

"I get the fact that he believes in a smaller city council". "The Better Local Government Act will reduce the size and cost of government while reducing dysfunction at City Hall". Joe Mihevic, who is running for re-election, wrote on Twitter. Kristyn Wong-Tam said many council candidates held off registering in the 25-ward system pending the outcome of the court case.

Ford had said in the past that Ottawa and Toronto city councils are not comparable, calling the comparison one of apples to oranges.

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"The options if you look at the plain wording appear to be extremely limited", he said.

"This is a risky sign of what this government is willing to do", he said.

Why didn't he campaign on it in the June provincial election?

He ruled that the enactment of Bill 5 in the middle of an election "substantially interfered" with the freedom of expression of both the municipal candidate as well as the voter under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Liberal Leader John Fraser urged Ford to abide by the ruling and stop meddling in municipal politics.

The Ontario government had at least an arguable basis on which to explain the decision: By invoking Section 33, it could have presented itself as maintaining certainty and the status quo for the municipal election while also seeking to appeal the lower court ruling.

Bill 5 also cancelled planned elections for the head of council position in the regional municipalities of Muskoka, Peel, York and Niagara, turning them into appointed roles.

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Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the decision confirms that not even Ford is "above the law".

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