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Ontario MPPs to hold midnight session after failing to move Toronto council bill forward

At a rare weekend sitting at Queen’s Park, the provincial Tories asked the NDP, Liberals and Green parties for unanimous approval to move forward with their controversial bid to slash the size of Toronto City Council. They were met with a resounding “no,” leading to another rare government decision: to reconvene the House just after midnight Monday morning.

The sitting wasn’t a second reading or debate over the bill itself, but was called to clear a procedural roadblock — a reasoned amendment submitted by MPPs opposing the move. Several members, including former premier Kathleen Wynne, used the session to present petitions from their constituents against the continued bid to cut Council.

“Instead of doing what’s in the best interests of the City of Toronto, and ensuring that we provide that certainty the city needs, the NDP, Liberal independents and the Green Party independent continue to file reasoned amendments and put obstacles our way, and not go along with our unanimous consent request here this afternoon,” government House Leader Todd Smith told reporters on Saturday.

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Opposition leader Andrea Horwath called Mr. Smith’s sentiment that their roadblocks were the issue “absolutely laughable,” calling the entire situation a “grudge match” levied by Premier Doug Ford, a former Toronto city councillor and mayoral candidate, against Toronto council. She appealed to the PCs to withdraw their motion and end what she called the ongoing “circus.”

While the public galleries were largely quiet during the 46-minute Saturday sitting, the session ended raucously, as spectators shouted down toward exiting PC MPPs. “How do you sleep at night?” one yelled. “Democracy is under attack,” shouted another. Several joined a resounding chorus of “shame,” while others declared their appreciation of Ms. Horwath and Ms. Wynne by name. Some MPPs applauded the protestors, and Ms. Wynne waved up at the galleries.

Former MPP Cheri DiNovo interrupted a press conference Mr. Smith held with reporters on Saturday morning before the sitting with her own protest. “Todd, you’re better than this,” she said as he stood at the podium. He responded that she knew the media studio wasn’t the place for protests. She later joined the galleries.

The Ontario legislature is under a severe time crunch right now, with Toronto’s city clerk warning that the disorder and confusion around the city’s Oct. 22 election is reaching a “tipping point,” over whether she can properly administer a vote. But the government is willing to do “whatever it takes” to get their current bill through, Mr. Smith said multiple times Saturday. MPPs will be called to reconvene for their next session in the dead of night to meet time targets, beginning the second reading debates over Bill 31 Monday at 12:01 a.m. “It’s going to be lights on, cameras on. Everything is going to be out there in the open for people to see,” he said.

An Ontario Superior Court judge ruled last Monday that Mr. Ford’s first bill to cut Toronto City Council, Bill 5, which passed mid-August, violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by way of the freedom of expression clause. Hours later, though, Mr. Ford vowed to invoke the Charter’s notwithstanding clause for the first time in Ontario’s history and overrule the judge. Toronto council voted Thursday to continue their legal fight against the province, and to bid for federal intervention, something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously declined to do.

Gilles Bisson, NDP MPP for Timmins, argued on Saturday that Bill 5 and Bill 31 are too similar to be proposed in the same session, which Mr. Smith opposed, pointing to the unprecedented inclusion of the notwithstanding clause. A verdict on that argument is expected “in due course,” speaker Ted Arnott told reporters Saturday, though he declined to give a date.

The provincial government is also currently seeking a stay on the judge’s decision from last week. Their case is slated to be heard at the Ontario Court of Appeal on Tuesday. The time crunch they’re facing is further complicated by the International Ploughing Match, a large agricultural expo held at an Ontario farm that provincial politicians typically attend. Mr. Smith hopes the session in the wee hours of Monday morning still allows them to do so. ​

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