Doug Ford invokes “notwithstanding clause” to downsize Toronto’s city council after Bill 5 was ruled unconstitutional
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government reintroduced legislation to cut the number of wards in the City of Toronto from 47 to 25, at the Ontario Legislature on Wednesday, Sept. 12.
The new bill invokes Section 33, better known as the “notwithstanding clause”, after Justice Edward Belobaba struck the original bill down and ruled it “unconstitutional.”
Members of the opposition strongly condemned the move, as did protesters who attended the legislature.
28 out of the 40 New Democratic Party (NDP) MPPs were escorted out of the chamber, after shouting “shame” and banging on their desks repeatedly.
People in the public gallery were also vocal against the move, and several were handcuffed and removed by legislature guards after the Speaker ordered it cleared.
The notwithstanding clause has never been used by the federal government, and although it has been invoked occasionally by provincial governments, this is the first time it has been used in Ontario.
“The Premier’s decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause is an unprecedented abuse of power and displays nothing but pure contempt for the people of Toronto,” said NDP MPP Jeff Burch in question period.
“The Attorney General made clear our intention to appeal, but time is of the essence,” said Steve Clark, the minister of municipal affairs and housing. “We have an election for Oct. 22. We want to make sure that that council is a streamlined council that’s ready to work to make those important decisions.”
Ford said that the bill was aimed at making Toronto city council more efficient so the city can address infrastructure and transit.
“This bill we’re introducing was introduced to fix the gridlock down at City Hall, the gridlock that took the factory worker, the construction worker, the person in the office over an hour to get to work down here,” said Ford.
However, on Sept. 10, Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled that little proof was provided that demonstrated the act would increase efficiency or savings.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath accused Ford of having personal motives.
“Why can’t the Premier just take a step back, take a deep breath, and accept that there is a more pressing priority there, and many more pressing priorities, than his petty vendetta against his old enemies at City Hall?” asked Horwath.
Horwath also had concerns about the use of the notwithstanding clause.
“Does this Attorney General, charged with upholding the rule of law in our province, really believe that cutting Toronto’s city council from 47 to 25 seats is worth violating our charter rights for?” she asked.
With most of the Opposition ejected, the first reading of the bill carried with 63 ayes and 17 nays.