Toronto asks feds to step in

Coun­cil ap­peals to PM to stop On­tario coun­cil-cut­ting plan

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - ONTARIO NEWS - SHAWN JEFFORDS and PAOLA LORIGGIO

TORONTO — The City of Toronto asked the fed­eral gov­ern­ment Thurs­day to stop On­tario leg­is­la­tion slash­ing the size of its coun­cil, an ap­peal is­sued af­ter staff warned that hold­ing a fair mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion next month was be­com­ing vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau made it clear, how­ever, that Ot­tawa would not block the On­tario gov­ern­ment’s un­prece­dented use of a con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion to push through with its plan to re­duce Toronto’s elec­toral map to 25 wards from 47.

The re­quest for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to use its dis­al­lowance pow­ers came dur­ing an emer­gency ses­sion at city hall a day af­ter Pre­mier Doug Ford rein­tro­duced coun­cil-cut­ting leg­is­la­tion that was found un­con­sti­tu­tional.

“I would say at this time Mr. Prime Min­is­ter, Toronto needs you,” said Coun. Joe Mi­hevc, who brought for­ward the res­o­lu­tion to ask for Ot­tawa’s as­sis­tance. “We need you at this time to en­force that prin­ci­ple in the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms that says we are all cre­ated equal within the law and we are all sub­ject to due process.”

A pro­vi­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tion tech­ni­cally per­mits the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to dis­al­low pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion, but it was last used in 1943, rais­ing ques­tions in le­gal cir­cles about whether it has be­come ob­so­lete.

Trudeau, speak­ing in Saskatchewan as the Toronto meet­ing took place, stressed he would not change his po­si­tion on the Ford gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to in­voke the not­with­stand­ing clause to forge ahead with its coun­cil-slash­ing plan.

“I’m dis­ap­pointed that the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment chose to take this de­ci­sion to over­ride peo­ple’s rights and free­doms but at the same time, 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.”

Mean­while, the city of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for run­ning Toronto’s Oct. 22 elec­tion said ev­ery de­lay re­sult­ing from the bat­tle be­tween the prov­ince and the city af­fects her abil­ity to en­sure fair­ness in the vote, re­gard­less of whether it in­volves 47 or 25 wards.

“We have hit a tip­ping point,” said Ulli Watkiss. “Both sce­nar­ios are be­com­ing vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for us to carry out.”

Toronto had chal­lenged the prov­ince’s coun­cil-cut­ting leg­is­la­tion in court and a judge agreed that pass­ing the bill in the mid­dle of mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion cam­paign vi­o­lated the free­dom of ex­pres­sion rights for vot­ers and can­di­dates.

But Ford quickly an­nounced he’d use the not­with­stand­ing clause to over­ride the rul­ing. His gov­ern­ment is also ap­peal­ing the de­ci­sion.

Toronto coun­cil­lors de­cided Thurs­day to con­tinue to fight the prov­ince’s leg­is­la­tion in the courts, with Toronto Mayor John Tory say­ing the city had to pur­sue all le­gal op­tions re­gard­less of the odds.

“I firmly be­lieve you don’t make a bad law bet­ter by over­rid­ing the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms,” he said. “We’re all here to keep stand­ing up for Toronto.”

Ford, a for­mer city coun­cil­lor and failed may­oral can­di­date, has said his plan will save $25 mil­lion and im­prove de­ci­sion mak­ing on coun­cil.

But Coun. Gord Perks said the pre­mier’s por­trayal of Toronto’s mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment was wrong.

“The dys­func­tion isn’t here,” Perks said. “The dys­func­tion fol­lows a cer­tain in­di­vid­ual around wher­ever he hap­pens to be elected. The dys­func­tion is Doug Ford.”

Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Steve Clark said he still be­lieves the city can head to the polls as sched­uled. He wouldn’t say, how­ever, if the prov­ince has a backup plan should Toronto’s clerk find that the city can­not be ready for the vote in time.

The dys­func­tion isn’t here. The dys­func­tion fol­lows a cer­tain in­di­vid­ual around wher­ever he hap­pens to be elected. The dys­func­tion is Doug Ford.” Coun. Gord Perks

The op­po­si­tion par­ties have vowed to use pro­ce­dural tools to de­lay the prov­ince’s coun­cil-cut­ting bill as much as pos­si­ble.

The NDP said Thurs­day that it will chal­lenge the bill un­der rules that pre­clude leg­is­la­tors from in­tro­duc­ing sub­stan­tially the same bill twice in one ses­sion, and that bar the leg­is­la­ture from de­bat­ing a item cur­rently be­fore the courts.

The Speaker, Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Ted Arnott, will be called to rule on the mat­ter, though it’s un­clear how long it will take him to de­cide.

The gov­ern­ment, mean­while, is seek­ing to make pro­ce­dural changes the New Democrats say aim to pre­vent op­po­si­tion par­ties from de­lay­ing the pass­ing of leg­is­la­tion.

NDP Leader An­drea Hor­wath noted that sev­eral pro­vin­cial and fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives have spo­ken out against the not­with­stand­ing clause.

“The only Con­ser­va­tives de­fend­ing the pre­mier’s de­ci­sion are the ones who rely on him for their jobs,” she said. “How can the pre­mier be so cer­tain that he is right when so many thought­ful Con­ser­va­tives are telling him he is ut­terly and to­tally wrong ?”

The Big City May­ors’ Cau­cus at the Fed­er­a­tion of Cana­dian Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties also threw its sup­port be­hind Toronto on Thurs­day, crit­i­ciz­ing Ford for his ac­tions.

The pre­mier, how­ever, once again dis­missed ar­gu­ments that he is over­rid­ing char­ter rights, say­ing the not­with­stand­ing clause is it­self part of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“If it wasn’t there to be used, it would not be there,” he said. “We live in a democ­racy. This is go­ing to be the will of the peo­ple.”

The leg­is­la­tion has passed first read­ing and the Tory house leader has said it is ex­pected to pass fi­nal read­ing on the week of Sept. 24.

CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Toronto Mayor John Tory sits in the Coun­cil Cham­ber at Toronto City Hall , on Thurs­day as coun­cil sits to dis­cuss the On­tario Gov­ern­ment’s in­tro­duc­tion of leg­is­la­tion to re­duce the size of Toronto City Coun­cil .

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