The City of Toronto is going to court to try to stop the province from meddling in its election in the middle of the race.
The mayor and councillors voted on Monday to pursue legal action against Bill 5, which became law last week and cuts the number of Toronto wards in October’s election from 47 to 25. The arguments will be heard later this month.
“Today’s the day that we take a stand,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, whose motion, which seeks a postponement of the election “should it be deemed necessary,” was backed by council. “This is an affront to democracy … we take this to the Supreme Court if necessary.”
The city has not laid out publicly the specifics of its court strategy, which is expected to include constitutional arguments and citizens' right to effective representation. Councillors were briefed in camera midday Monday on the city's legal prospects and voted later in the day to keep that information confidential.
The city’s legal bid joins others, including one launched on Monday on behalf of a candidate, a member of the public and a citizen group, by lawyers with Goldblatt Partners, that seeks to have Bill 5 struck down.
“The court challenge is obviously going to be on the basis of constitutional grounds, both in terms of specific grounds as well as sort of unwritten constitutional principles, as well as the city of Toronto Act,” said Goldblatt lawyer Heather Ann McConnell, who would not be more specific.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford threw a wrench into Toronto’s election planning when he announced last month that he would slash the number of politicians in the city. He is not known to have mentioned the idea publicly while campaigning for office in the spring and justified it on the grounds of political efficiency.
Despite waves of public outcry at city hall and the legislature, Mr. Ford said in Ottawa on Monday that he’s “never ever had a more positive feedback than what we did at the City of Toronto.” But the Premier also sought to allay concerns he might move to reduce the size of councils in other municipalities as well.
“We do not, I repeat, we do not have plans for similar legislation in our near future,” he told the Association of Municipalities of Ontario on Monday, saying that his legislation targeted the provincial capital because “many of Toronto’s issues are specific to Toronto.” The provincial move shocked many at Toronto’s City Hall, who noted that some would-be councillors had already left other jobs, raised money and started campaigning under the 47-ward system. Mayor John Tory has urged the province to postpone any such change until there can be proper consultation and a plebiscite on the idea.
“The process by which this monumental change was made was wrong and is unacceptable,” Mr. Tory told his council colleagues and the capacity crowd in the chamber on Monday morning.
“While we, as a municipality, must always acknowledge that we exist and operate within the context of a Canadian Constitution, it is our duty to represent the people of Toronto and the best interests of the city at all times, and to make our opinions known and our positions heard when we do not believe that the actions of other levels of government are in our city’s best interests.”
However, leading mayoral challenger Jennifer Keesmaat said that Mr. Ford knew he could force his change on Toronto because he’d provoke only a meek response from Mr. Tory.
“I’m not sure any of us expected John Tory to stand up when Doug Ford came calling. I think that’s consistent with the dithering and the lack of the response and indecisiveness that we’ve seen on many critical issues over the past four years,” she told reporters.
“This fight is so important because Torontonians want to be involved in their democracy and this is a swipe at their democracy from Doug Ford. Look, this city can’t be run through press releases from Queen’s Park, it’s not how local democracy works.”
With a report from Justin Giovannetti in Toronto