Ontario will move ahead with council cut despite city's court challenge
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, August 21, 2018 12:52PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 21, 2018 4:52PM EDT
TORONTO -- The Ontario government is standing by its controversial decision to cut the size of Toronto's council despite a looming legal challenge from the city, saying it will be implementing the reduction in time for the fall municipal election.
A day after Toronto councillors voted to take the province to court over the issue, the Progressive Conservatives maintained that their decision will "streamline" governance in Canada's most populous city.
"For too long the dysfunction and political gridlock at city hall has held Toronto back on issues like transit, infrastructure and housing," a spokesman for Premier Doug Ford said in a statement Tuesday.
"The Better Local Government Act will help streamline Toronto City Council and make sure they can more effectively deliver on the priorities that matter to the people of Toronto, while saving taxpayers at least $25 million."
The provincial legislation -- which passed last week -- will cut the number of Toronto council seats from 47 to 25, aligning Toronto's ward map with federal ridings ahead of the Oct. 22 municipal election. It also cancels planned elections for the head of council position in the regional municipalities of Muskoka, Peel, York and Niagara, turning them into appointed roles.
Toronto will take part in a Superior Court hearing challenging the legislation on Aug. 31, as well as any other legal proceedings related to the provincial legislation, the city said.
Mayor John Tory said Tuesday that he believes the legal action will be heard quickly, noting that local politicians should soon know if the upcoming election will involve 47 or 25 seats.
"I think what you'll find is the case will be heard with a degree of dispatch," he said, noting that the city is fighting against how the province decided to act on its council-cutting plan.
"I understand the fact that the law was passed," he said. "That is the very thing that we're challenging in court, mostly on the basis of a totally unacceptable process that did not involve any consultation and I think sets a very bad precedent."
One observer said Toronto councillors who were against the province's move had limited ways in which they could oppose the government's plan.
"What council did is a political act," said Ryerson University politics and public administration professor Wayne Petrozzi, noting that there's little chance a court will find the province exceeded its constitutional authority.
"For the city of Toronto politicians to have meekly taken a pass on this and just allowed it to go ahead I think might have encouraged Mr. Ford to indulge in this kind of behaviour some future time as well."
The city's planned court challenge is just the latest legal proceeding the newly-minted Ford government is dealing with since it took office in late June.
The Tories are facing a planned human rights complaint over the repeal and replacement of the province's sex education curriculum and legal action launched by Tesla over the cancellation of electric car subsidies.
When asked if the government's aggressive approach to its legislative agenda could have led to the proceedings, Ford's spokesman Simon Jefferies said the government is simply keeping its promises.
"Premier Doug Ford and the government for the people are going to continue implementing our plan for the people, and delivering real relief to families," he said.