- Hundreds of protesters and spectators rallied at Queen’s Park early Monday during a special midnight session of the legislature, where Premier Doug Ford was trying to rush through legislation to cut Toronto’s city council in half.
- The bill in question, the Efficient Local Government, Act is essentially the same as another law passed in August, with one controversial difference: It invokes the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to override a court ruling that the cuts to city council violate candidates' freedom of expression.
- Even among conservative observers, there is heated debate over whether Mr. Ford’s use of the clause was the right thing to do. Several architects of the 1982 Constitution are vocally opposed: Former prime minister Jean Chrétien, former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow and former Ontario attorney-general Roy McMurtry, among others, issued a joint statement Friday saying the clause was never meant to be used this way: "We condemn his actions and call on those in his cabinet and caucus to stand up to him. History will judge them by their silence.”
- Mr. Ford wants Toronto to have 25 wards; the city currently has 47. A “tipping point” where neither a 47- nor 25-ward election might be possible any more, city clerk Uli Watkiss warned an emergency council meeting last Thursday. She told councillors she had “huge concern” about whether she could oversee a fair election, and would be asking her own independent lawyer about, among other things, whether she can postpone the Oct. 22 vote.
- At the same meeting, councillors voted to ask the federal government to challenge Ontario’s legislation with a little-used constitutional power, disallowance. Ottawa has not used disallowance against a provincial law since 1943.
The Ford factor, explained in four steps
Four years ago, the tumultuous mayoralty of Rob Ford came to an end as the ailing politician stepped away from his re-election campaign for cancer treatment. Doug Ford, his brother and right-hand man, ran for the mayoralty instead, but lost to John Tory. Now, Doug Ford is Premier of Ontario, and to his critics, he's using that role as a mayoralty by other means, instituting drastic and hotly contested changes to how the city is governed. Here's the story so far.
1. THE BIG CUT, PART 1
Only weeks after taking office, Mr. Ford threw a wrench into candidates' plans for the Toronto municipal election by deciding to cut the number of city councillors from 47 to 25. At the time, he said the changes were to cut costs and “dramatically improve the decision-making process,” but many councillors saw it as an undemocratic move meant to settle scores from his own days in municipal government. "This is Doug Ford taking revenge out on Toronto and just throwing a stick of dynamite at council and saying: Figure it out," councillor Joe Mihevc said.
The law, named the Better Local Government Act, passed in August at the end of the summer legislative session, but meanwhile, Toronto politicians and the city’s lawyers mounted a defence against it. Several candidates filed a lawsuit against the province, while Mr. Tory urged the Premier to put the changes on hold and let voters decide on the number of councillors in a citywide referendum.
2. THE COURT DECISION
Mr. Ford's plans hit a snag on Sept. 10, when Justice Edward Belobaba of the Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of the council candidates, saying that the province had "clearly crossed the line" and Mr. Ford had no justification for cutting the council in half so soon before the election. In Judge Belobaba's ruling, the case weighed not on the candidates' or voters' democratic rights – city governments aren't explicitly covered by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the way provincial and federal governments are – but on the right to freedom of speech, which is covered by the Charter.
Mr. Ford was dismissive of the court ruling, and said the province would appeal it. “I believe the judge’s decision is deeply, deeply concerning,” he said at a news conference hours after the decision. “He’s the judge, I’m the Premier.” The appeal process was formally set in motion on Sept. 12, with government lawyers due in court a week later.
3. THE NOTWITHSTANDING CLAUSE
In an unexpected move, Mr. Ford chose the nuclear option to contest the court ruling: He promised to use the Constitution's notwithstanding clause to force through the council cut despite the judge's objections. The clause was a compromise crafted by premiers during the 1980s repatriation of the Constitution from Britain. It allows Ottawa or the provinces to pass temporary laws that override certain constitutional rights, such as freedom of expression, which is at the heart of Judge Belobaba's decision. Such laws come with a five-year sunset clause, the idea being that a new government could dispense with a previous government's unconstitutional laws.
The notwithstanding clause has rarely been used outside Quebec, and never before in Ontario. Usually it's been used to deal with language-rights questions or education, not to force changes to a municipal government. Mr. Tory described Mr. Ford's decision as “using a sledgehammer on a fly.”
4. THE BIG CUT, PART 2
Mr. Ford recalled MPPs on Sept. 12 to quickly push through new legislation – Bill 31, or the Efficient Local Government Act – that includes the notwithstanding-clause wording. It passed first reading, with MPPs voting along party lines, and Mr. Ford held unprecedented weekend and overnight sessions of the legislature to speed the bill toward royal assent. NDP MPPs resisted the move with civil disobedience in the legislature, and are trying procedural challenges to stall or stop the legislation. The legislature was also the scene of large-scale protests early on Sept. 17, when MPPs met just after midnight and kept going until the early morning.
If the legislation ends up passing, there is one further step Ottawa could take to intervene: Having the federal cabinet block the new law using its constitutional powers of “disallowance.” The Canadian government mostly stopped using those powers against provinces in the 20th century. On Sept. 13, Toronto’s city council voted to ask the Trudeau government to disallow Mr. Ford’s latest legislation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at the Liberal cabinet retreat in Saskatoon, said Toronto’s municipal affairs weren’t his business: "I’m not going to weigh in on the actual debate over the size of the municipal governments in Ontario, in Toronto,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a role that the federal government needs to take on.”
Who will I vote for on Oct. 22?
Toronto’s city clerk has voiced concerns about whether she can hold a fair election at all, and has retained independent counsel to look into her options, which might include delaying election day.
The nominations for candidates under the 47-ward model were closed and certified in July. The city’s ward-by-ward list of who’s running has been shut down for “updates” since Sept. 10, but you can still search for registered candidates by name here.
Who's running for mayor?
On paper, Mr. Tory has many similarities to Mr. Ford, whom he bested for the Toronto mayoralty in 2014. Both are millionaires whose fathers were part of Toronto's business establishment; Mr. Tory was leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives from 2004 to 2009; and both came to their respective offices with promises of low taxes and fiscal responsibility. To a city tired of the upheaval of the Ford years, Mr. Tory presented himself as a conciliator who could bring conservative and liberal voters together. His re-election platform promises to stay the course on a 2016 public-transit plan and keeping property taxes at or below the rate of inflation.
For five years, Ms. Keesmaat was Toronto's chief urban planner, publicly butting heads with Mr. Tory over various issues until she resigned in 2017. Now, she's running as the mayoral candidate on the left, supported by a number of councillors who've called for higher tax increases and more ambitious city services. She is proposing major overhauls of the transit plan, more affordable housing and urban-planning changes she says will make the city's roads safer.
The issues: Required reading
How do I vote?
- Am I registered? Any Canadian citizen can vote if they're at least 18 years old and live in Toronto, or own or rent property there. If you're already on the voter list, the city will send out an information card starting Sept. 17 that explains where you need to go and when. You can also check the city's online tools to get on the list or update your information.
- When do I vote? Polls open at 10 a.m. on election day. Advance voting opens Oct. 10 and closes Oct. 14.
- What do I need to vote? When you go to the polling place, you'll need identification showing your name and address. It doesn't have to be photo ID: A utility bill or pay stub from work should do. It isn't mandatory to bring your voter information card, but it'll speed things up.
- When do we know who wins? Polls close at 8 p.m., but a decisive result will depend on how close the race is and how quickly the ballots are counted. Check back at globeandmail.com for full election-night coverage.
Analysis and commentary
Compiled by Globe staff
With reports from Jeff Gray, Justin Giovannetti, Sean Fine and The Canadian Press