'This is about preserving democracy': Ford defends moves on council-cutting plan

Olive Hawkins
September 14, 2018

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that he will use the "notwithstanding clause" to override a court ruling that his government's hurriedly-enacted Better Local Government Act (Bill 5) violates rights "guaranteed" under the Canadian constitution's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The federal Liberals say they are disappointed the Ontario government will resort to the Constitution's notwithstanding clause to forge ahead with plans to cut the size of Toronto city council.

Nominations for council candidates were supposed to close for the 25-ward election on Friday but candidates have not been able to register since Monday's court decision, according to the city clerk.

Ford's response and his remarks about the functioning of the judicial system, in particular, raised eyebrows in several circles.

Former Ontario premier Bob Rae has compared that to living in an "elected dictatorship".

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said his party would introduce an amendment to the bill that could delay its passage after it is reintroduced.

"This is about preserving the will of the people, this is about preserving democracy", Ford said during question period, citing his Progressive Conservatives' victory in the spring election.

Ford's remarks sounded alarm bells for Vanessa MacDonnell, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Ottawa.

"From what I can see, there are very, very limited options open to us", Mr. "That's really a big departure".

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"I think more reasoned, moderate conservatives might wonder why the premier is using such a powerful instrument on an issue that's. not important in the minds of voters", he said.

"He doesn't seem to understand the objective of our constitutional design", Macfarlane said.

If the government moves to invoke the constitutional override, it would throw another wrinkle into a Toronto election campaign less than six weeks away from voting day, October 22.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has said invoking the clause is a "gross overreach" of the province's powers, adding city staff will advise councillors at a special meeting on Thursday how the municipality can proceed with the upcoming October 22 election.

"(Ford) is not thinking as carefully as he might about how our system works", Tory said in a radio interview.

"The rights and freedoms guaranteed by the charter are of utmost importance in our society and our government will always stand up to defend them", he said in a statement.

If Mr. Ford's new legislation does not change the deadline, some at city hall fear that could leave those councillors off the October 22 ballot. As such, provincial governments are fully empowered to make sweeping changes to cities within their territory.

Ford's mistake was trying to ram this through during a municipal election campaign without making it part of his provincial election platform. Alternatively, he said, a province would have to reach a bilateral deal with Ottawa to limit its own powers, something most provinces would be reluctant to do. She said one in seven Ontarians was "living in poverty" and that she took issue with "siloed" social programs that weren't, in her eyes, getting the job done.

The minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks stated at the time that the elimination of carbon taxes will save the average Ontario family $260 per year and reduce gas prices by 10 cents per litre. In particular, Keesmaat seized on a comment made by Ford on Monday that Tory "says one thing behind closed doors and then says something totally different in front of the cameras".

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