Court upholds Ontario's decision to cut Toronto City Council in half
An unprecedented legal challenge against Ontario's PC government over its decision to cut Toronto City Council in half, without warning or consultation, in the middle of an election cycle, has been dismissed.
Ontario's Court of Appeal revealed their decision on Thursday, stating that Premier Doug Ford had the "legitimate authority" to reduce council from 47 to 25 seats in August of 2018.
Lawyers for the city had argued that Ford's surprise cuts violated the constitutional rights of both Toronto citizens, and of candidates running in a municipal election that was already well underway.
Charter city status (or at least more powers) for Toronto and other municipalities could (and should) be a real issue in next provincial election. This status quo is untenable. https://t.co/eT9F4wvLmB— Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) September 19, 2019
"What we don't need, and what I just can't support, is change being rammed down our throats without a single second of public consultation," said Mayor John Tory back in 2018 after Ford had announced the impending cuts.
"And on top of that, done in the middle of the election period itself. You don't change the rules in the middle of the game. That is not right and that is not fair."
Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba sided with Tory in one of the first legal challenges mounted against Ontario over the cuts, declaring that Ford's "mid-stream legislative intervention not only interfered with the candidates' freedom of expression, it undermined an otherwise fair and suitable election process."
Three Court of Appeal judges stayed that ruling a few weeks later, and it's been back and forth between city and provincial leaders ever since.
As the 5th largest government in the country and the economic engine of this Province, the City of Toronto must be more than simply a creature of the Province. The courts have ruled otherwise, so it’s time to change the policy. It’s time to empower cities.— Joe Cressy (@joe_cressy) September 19, 2019
Today's decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal officially overturned Belobaba's ruling.
Three out of five judges on the panel concluded that, while disruptive, the slashing of Toronto City Council was "undeniably within the legitimate authority of the legislature," as council is considered a "creature of provincial legislation."
Ford's council-reducing Bill 5 will thus be allowed to stand, unless the City of Toronto takes its fight to the Supreme Court of Canada and wins.
In a blistering dissent, Justice MacPherson says the Ford government's decision last summer to slash Toronto council in the middle of an election "left a trail of devastation of basic democratic principles in its wake" https://t.co/A8WY8oujgL #onpoli #TOpoli pic.twitter.com/S6odr4R8Wv— John Bowker (@bowker_john) September 19, 2019
The City of Toronto released a statement shortly before noon on Thursday saying that its legal staff would be reviewing the court decision in detail.
"In January 2019, Toronto City Council directed staff 'to pursue a leave to appeal application to the Supreme Court of Canada in the event the Province is successful on its appeal at the Court of Appeal'."
"As City staff will need time to review the decision — including the dissenting judgement — and draft a report to City Council, staff will not be commenting on the court's decision today," reads the statement, authored by City spokesperson Brad Ross.
"It does, however, thank the court for their attention and consideration on this matter."
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