UPDATE: Province to invoke rarely used notwithstanding clause in Bill 5 fight
The Ontario government is invoking the rarely used notwithstanding clause so it can proceed with efforts to slash the size of Toronto city council in the middle of a municipal election.
Doug Ford says his Progressive Conservative government will also be appealing an Ontario judge's decision that found the province's move was unconstitutional.
Ford's comments come hours after a judge ruled the province crossed the line when it hurriedly enacted the Better Local Government Act last month without any consultation.
In a scathing decision, Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba said Ford and his Progressive Conservatives interfered with the right to freedom of expression for both candidates and voters when the province enacted the Better Local Government Act last month.
"There is no evidence that any other options or approaches were considered or that any consultation ever took place," Belobaba wrote. "It appears that Bill 5 was hurriedly enacted to take effect in the middle of the city’s election without much thought at all, more out of pique than principle."
Bill 5 cut the size of Toronto’s city council from 47 seats to 25, aligning them with federal ridings, despite the fact that the campaign for the Oct. 22 election was already underway.
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.
The judge acknowledged the importance of exercising judicial restraint when it comes to the decisions of governments but said that in this case, it was appropriate for the court to act.
"It is only when a democratically elected government has clearly crossed the line that the ’judicial umpire’ should intervene," he said. "The province has clearly crossed the line."
Ford, who abruptly announced the council-cutting plan in late July, had argued the move would improve decision-making on the council, where he served one term. He also said it would save $25 million.
The premier was set to respond to the ruling at noon, but the judge has noted that he was certain the losing party would appeal.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, meanwhile, welcomed the decision.
"Democracy does not belong to a few of us, it belongs to all of us,” he said. “No law should ever fail to take that into account and all of us as lawmakers, regardless of where we’re carrying out those responsibilities, should always remember that."
A number of Toronto city councillors also applauded the judgement.