The new bill attempting to cut the size of Toronto City Council passed the first reading in Ontario’s legislature on Wednesday, after NDP MPPs were forced to leave the room after protesting the bill.
Named the Efficient Local Government Act, the bill invokes Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for the first time in the province’s history. The section is publicly known as the notwithstanding clause, and allows the government to pass laws overriding specific charter rights for a five-year period, before the law needs to be renewed.
“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter,” the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states.
On Monday, a judge struck down a previous version because reducing the amount of seats in the middle of a municipal election violates the freedom of expression of the both people running and voting in it.
“Bill 5 radically altered the City’s electoral districts, in most cases doubling both their physical size and the number of potential voters,” the judge’s decision stated. “The immediate impact of Bill 5 was wide-spread confusion and uncertainty. There was confusion about where to run, how to best refashion one’s political message and reorganize one’s campaign, how to attract additional financial support, and what to do about all the wasted campaign literature and other material. There was uncertainty flowing from the court challenge, the possibility that the court challenge might succeed and the consequences for all concerned if this were to happen.”
The new bill will allow candidates to file their nomination papers until two days after it receives Royal Assent, but it still has to pass through a second and third reading before this is possible.
Originally the election was scheduled for October 22, but with this happening there is public uncertainty about when and where people will be voting.
Arguing that he is upholding the values of democracy because his government was elected by voters, Doug Ford said the public should be concerned that a judge was trying to disrupt his agenda. "The people of Ontario are the judge and jury," he said.
“Today we will be reintroducing a bill that will make the City of Toronto operate more efficiently for its citizens. We're using Section 33 of the Constitution because we believe that the will of the elected legislature should be respected,” Ford said on Wednesday.
When the clause was added to the Constitution, there was a lot of controversy over whether political leaders would ever be tempted to use it. Many people had thought that at the time, leaders would be constrained by their unwillingness to overrule one’s fundamental rights, according to a former principal secretary. This is largely how it happened throughout the country — it has only been used 15 times before, mostly in Quebec as a form of political protest and once in Saskatchewan — until Ford came into office.
Due to the nature of the way politics is headed, with popularity playing a huge role in how much public reception someone receives, this view around the notwithstanding clause might no longer apply. The assumption that one will lose votes if they utilize the clause is no longer the norm and, with the election of Trump to President, opens the floodgates to a group of voters who follow political leaders blindly and wholeheartedly.
The Conservative party said they were going to shrink the size of the government, but made no mention of this during their campaign and did not mention their plans to cut the number of council members in half, which is happening only in Toronto.