The ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal on Wednesday allowing the province to move ahead with its plan to cut the number of Toronto municipal council seats from 47 to 25 is a welcome bit of sound judgment.
The original lower-court ruling barring the cuts seemed novel to us, and the Court of Appeal stay reinforces our opinion that it is likely to be overturned on full appeal. Above all, the stay should allow the city to move forward with an election this fall and leave enough time for voters and candidates to be properly heard.
This should not be taken as an endorsement of the cuts to the council, or as approval of Premier Doug Ford’s actions. The Premier has been offside throughout this unnecessary episode, inventing a phony mandate to justify the cuts and resorting to the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause in a rushed and unwarranted manner.
He furthermore disgraced his office when, after his bill to cut council seats was overturned by the lower court, he maligned the judiciary on the grounds that it is “unelected” and suggested that the judge involved was a Liberal political appointee biased against the Ontario PC Party.
The sight of his cabinet supporting these Trumpian tactics has been disturbing; that the Attorney-General, Caroline Mulroney, refused to publicly defend the honour of the judicial system she oversees is especially troubling.
But therein lies the value of the stay granted on Wednesday: It throws the debate back into the political arena.
Barring further complications, the election in Toronto will go ahead. Residents will subsequently get to judge the alleged value of a smaller council. They will learn quickly enough whether the reduction improves their lives or was an empty act of pique. They can also decide for themselves how they feel about the Premier’s actions and words, and whether they support the PC government’s use of a legislative majority to rush through reforms without mandate or consultation.
And then, in the general election in 2022, they can pass judgment in the form of a vote for or against the PC Party. Bad laws need to be tested by judicial review and then, if necessary, by the people themselves. Despite recent claims to the contrary, democracy is alive and well in Ontario.