Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he’s willing to do whatever it takes to push his mandate “for the people.”
On Monday, an Ontario judge ruled to strike down a bill that would have seen the number of Toronto city council seats slashed nearly in half from 47 to 25.
Hours after the ruling, Ford came out swinging during a news conference, announcing the province would be invoking the mighty notwithstanding clause in order to catapult the plan forward, despite the judge’s objection.
Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, more commonly known as the notwithstanding clause, allows Parliament or provincial legislatures to override other sections of the Charter. The clause has been used more than 15 times in Canada, according to CBC News.
It was used by the government of Saskatchewan in the 1980s as a during a labour dispute with government workers. The Quebec government used it in the 1980s as part of a political protest to the new Constitution.
Besides rare instances, the override powers are not commonly used in Canada because they are so controversial. This is the first time the tool is being utilized in Ontario.
“I believe the judge’s decision is deeply concerning,” Ford said. “The result is unacceptable to the people of Ontario.”
The premier says the provincial government plans to fight the judge’s decision in the Ontario Court of Appeal. Ford adds he will call back MPPs for an emergency meeting as the Progressive Conservatives prepare to reintroduce the bill in the Ontario legislature.
“We’re taking a stand,” Ford told reporters. “This plan would replace a broken system.”
The move is considered controversial because it came in the midst of a municipal election campaign, which is to be held on Oct. 22, 2018. Critics argue Ford did not openly campaign on this issue and did not receive public consultations on the matter.
However, the PC leader insists he ran a campaign aimed at ridding the province of wasteful spending while reducing the size and scope of government. Ford says the decision is “wildly popular among the people” and would save taxpayers $25 million.
Judge says province ‘crossed the line’
While Ford says he respects the courts, that does not mean he will accept their decision easily. The premier will use the tools at his disposal to enact a decision he insists is “completely constitutional” because he does not believe judges should be able to interfere with his political agenda.
“My concern is democracy. Is democracy being held up here? That is a big, big concern,” Ford said. “People knew what we were going to do.”
But the judge in this case didn’t see it that way.
In his ruling, Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba accused the province of crossing the line with Bill 5 by changing the election rules after the campaign had started. He suggested the bill would infringe on the right to freedom of expression for both voters and municipal candidates.
“The province has clearly crossed the line,” the judge wrote.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called Ford’s move an “abuse of power.”
“This is an unprecedented move, literally suspending the Charter rights of Ontario people in order to plow ahead with his revenge plot against his political enemies,” Horwath said. “A good leader doesn’t just ask if he has the right to do it, but whether it’s the right thing to do.”
Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner said the decision was a “dangerous sign of what this government is willing to do.”
Former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne also responded to the controversial move.
“Using the notwithstanding clause in a context where there is no national emergency, and where there will be no proper debate on the balancing of rights at stake is wrong,” Wynne wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory publicly condemned the premier’s action as “unprecedented and not acceptable.” Tory also posted a photo of himself sitting down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss his concerns with the provincial government.
Thanks to Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau for meeting with me tonight to talk about my concerns around the province's use of the notwithstanding clause. I appreciate his support for democratic principles, democratic institutions, and the importance of respecting cities. pic.twitter.com/1y5FDRsaBj
— John Tory (@TorontosMayor) September 10, 2018
“I appreciate his support for democratic principles, democratic institutions, and the importance of respecting cities,” the mayor said on Twitter.
Ford’s announcement was also met with a flurry of mixed reactions on social media, catching the attention of Toronto councillors, Ontario mayors and the federal NDP leader.
Today’s decision by the Ontario Superior Court judge underlines the severely undemocratic nature of Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 5 #topoli
To everyone who organized & spoke out, and all the candidates who refused to give up, #Toronto is stronger because of you.
— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) September 10, 2018
Premier has every right to use notwithstanding clause and not allow Liberal party judges govern the people who elected a government.
— Joe Warmington (@joe_warmington) September 10, 2018
Overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms at a whim, when you’ve been found to be violating the constitutional rights of Ontarians, is absolutely terrifying. Doug Ford will use the Notwithstanding clause whenever he fails to get what he wants. The makings of a dictator.
— Joe Cressy (@joe_cressy) September 10, 2018
The Conservatives are using one of the most extraordinary and rarely used pieces of our Charter to interfere with the Toronto election. Zero consultation, 6 weeks before Election Day. That’s extremely disturbing. #onpoli #TOpoli #Bill5 #NotwithstandingClause
— Michael Coteau (@coteau) September 10, 2018
The notwithstanding clause is the best way to combat judicial activism. Kudos to @fordnation for having the guts to play that card.
— Andrew Lawton (@AndrewLawton) September 10, 2018
Now more than ever, we need a new deal for cities that respects our standing as the home to the vast majority of Canadians & our right to govern our own affairs. We are on the front lines of democracy and must be afforded the respect to make decisions for the people we serve.
— Bonnie Crombie 🇨🇦 (@BonnieCrombie) September 10, 2018
What do you think of Ford’s decision to bring out a heavy-handed approach to enact his mandate? Do you think using the notwithstanding clause goes too far to deal with this issue? Or is the premier justified in his actions in this case? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
With files from The Canadian Press