TORONTO – Canada’s high court is expected to rule Friday on whether Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford’s decision to reduce the size of Toronto’s city council during the last municipal elections was constitutional.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision will be issued approximately one year before Ontario’s next municipal vote.
The 2018 municipal campaign was underway when the Ontario legislature passed a law that reduced the number of council seats in Toronto from 47 to 25, aligning them with federal constituencies.
Charter section will be key in Toronto court battle over council cut
At the time, Ford, a former Toronto city councilman and failed mayoral candidate, argued that the change would streamline the council’s operations and save $ 25 million.
Critics, however, denounced it as undemocratic and arbitrary.
Toronto successfully challenged the legislation in Superior Court, and the judge found it unconstitutional.
Judge Edward Belobaba found that the law infringed on candidates’ free speech rights by affecting their ability to campaign and the rights of voters by preventing them from casting a vote that could result in effective representation.
Ford threatened to use the clause in the Constitution to push for change. The clause gives provincial legislatures and Parliament the ability to introduce legislation that nullifies the provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but only for five years.
In the end, the progressive conservative prime minister did not have to invoke the clause as the province won a stay of the decision pending appeal. The Toronto election went ahead with the council’s reduced size.
In its arguments before the Court of Appeals, the province said the law was a “proportionate measure” to address “dysfunction” in the city hall, which it said was caused by having too many councilors.
With Toronto City Council reduced to 25 boroughs, the focus is on governing
Meanwhile, the city said the 2018 voting results should be held until the next election, which is scheduled for next October. He sought to have the court repeal the legislation as unconstitutional, arguing, among other things, that it violated unwritten constitutional principles of democracy.
Ontario’s superior court was divided on the matter, with three judges failing to overturn Belobaba’s decision and two to uphold it.
Most found that the legislation did not infringe on the ability of candidates or voters to express themselves freely. Dissenting judges found that it interfered with the candidates’ free speech rights.
The Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear the city’s challenge to the Court of Appeals ruling. A hearing was held in March.
In its written submissions, the city argued that the change caused significant disruption and confusion for candidates and voters.
Ontario Court of Appeals Rules 3-2 in Favor of Law That Slashed Toronto’s City Hall
The new district boundaries meant that candidates would have campaigned in areas that were no longer part of their district, and had not campaigned in areas that now belonged to their district, the city wrote. Meanwhile, voters were no longer sure which neighborhood they lived in and who the candidates were, he argued.
He also argued again that the law violated “the unwritten constitutional principle of democracy.”
Submissions from the province said voters and candidates had all the information they needed about who was running in each district before the vote.
He also said that unwritten constitutional principles cannot be used to repeal legislation, but even if they could, the province argued, there is no basis to find that they were violated in this case.
© 2021 The Canadian Press