McDonell de­fends Bill 31

Par­lia­men­tary as­sis­tant ar­gues use of Char­ter clause to shrink Toronto coun­cil is valid

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - NEWS - ALAN S. HALE ahale@post­

Stor­mont-Dun­das-South Glen­garry MPP Jim McDonell was in Corn­wall at­tend­ing the On­tario East Mu­nic­i­pal Con­fer­ence while his col­leagues con­tin­ued to clash with the Op­po­si­tion at Queen’s Park over the gov­ern­ment’s plan to use the Not­with­stand­ing Clause to pass a law cut­ting the size of Toronto’s city coun­cil on Thurs­day.

McDonell, the par­lia­men­tary as­sis­tant to Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Steve Clark, is de­fend­ing the gov­ern­ment’s con­tro­ver­sial move af­ter a pro­vin­cial court ruled it was un­con­sti­tu­tional for vi­o­lat­ing the Char­ter’s free­dom of ex­pres­sion pro­tec­tions. The gov­ern­ment views the de­ci­sion as ju­di­cial over­reach and is ap­peal­ing the de­ci­sion.

“This judge set a prece­dent that we’ve never seen be­fore and we need to know if that is some­thing that should be­come law, or was it an over­reach by the judge and needs to be struck down,” said the MPP. “We want to make sure we have this right, we could have sim­ply passed the law with­out ap­peal­ing the de­ci­sion, but we didn’t.”

With mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions only one month away, McDonell ar­gues the gov­ern­ment sim­ply didn’t have the time to wait for the re­sult of an ap­peal be­cause the gov­ern­ment wants peo­ple to be able to see and judge the im­pact of its poli­cies be­fore the next elec­tion.

“There’s no use mak­ing changes at the end of your term and telling peo­ple ‘we think you will see re­sults.’ We will make these changes early on and peo­ple will judge for them­selves,” said McDonell. “If we leave big de­ci­sions to year four, we are not be­ing fair to the pub­lic.”

If the court hears the case and over­turns the On­tario Su­pe­rior Court rul­ing, the gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion and its law will be vin­di­cated. If not, then McDonell said it will be up to vot­ers to pun­ish his party in the next elec­tion if they dis­agreed with us­ing the clause to pass an un­con­sti­tu­tional law.

This is a spe­cial cir­cum­stance, he ar­gued. The gov­ern­ment isn’t just pass­ing un­con­sti­tu­tional law be­cause it can, nor does it in­tend to in­voke the Not­with­stand­ing Clause when­ever the courts stymie its leg­isla­tive agenda over Char­ter rights con­sid­er­a­tions.

“We won’t use it with­out se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion,” the MPP said. “We have no in­ten­tion of us­ing it again, but we can’t rule it out ei­ther.”

McDonell said he be­lieves de­ci­sive ac­tion is needed to fix Toronto’s coun­cil.

Although this will be the first time On­tario has ever made use of the Not­with­stand­ing Clause, McDonell ar­gued it is not il­le­git­i­mate or even un­usual for the gov­ern­ment to do so.

The clause was in­cluded in the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms as a com­pro­mise with prov­inces to get the Char­ter ap­proved. McDonell noted the clause has been in­voked many times in other prov­inces since the Char­ter was adopted in 1982.

The Not­with­stand­ing Clause has been in­voked 15 times in to­tal, the vast ma­jor­ity of which have been in Que­bec; most no­tably to shield its strict lan­guage laws for vi­o­lat­ing the Char­ter’s free­dom of ex­pres­sion pro­tec­tions.


Jim McDon­nell speaks with an­other at­tendee at the On­tario East Mu­nic­i­pal Con­fer­ence on Thurs­day in Corn­wall.

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