Toronto court challenge of council cut has 'no merit': Ontario government
Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes an announcement at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, July 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, August 30, 2018 1:35PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 30, 2018 5:20PM EDT
TORONTO -- Municipalities are "creatures of the Legislature" and have no recourse when it comes to the powers of the province over their affairs, the Ontario government argues in a bid to quash a legal challenge of its decision to cut the size of Toronto city council.
In documents filed with Ontario's Superior Court ahead of a Friday hearing, lawyers for the Progressive Conservative government say that a series of legal challenges, including one from the City of Toronto, have "no merit".
In its legal challenge of Bill 5 -- or Better Local Government Act -- the city argued that reducing the number of councillors in the middle of a municipal election is "discriminatory and arbitrary" and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The government, however, says the Legislature does not have a duty to consult municipalities on such decisions.
"Municipalities are creatures of the Legislature, which is free to delegate power to them, and to amend or withdraw the delegation," the factum filed by government lawyers says.
The legislation, which passed earlier this month, reduces Toronto council to 25 seats from 47 to align the city's ward map with federal ridings in time for the Oct. 22 municipal election, a move Premier Doug Ford has argued will improve decision-making and save $25 million.
The provincial legislation 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.
Bill 5 will also impact representation, Toronto's lawyers argue.
"Dividing the city into 25 wards creates ward sizes that are significantly larger than ward sizes of any other municipality in Ontario," they say. "Such a redistribution of wards does not provide for effective representation now or in the future."
City lawyers say the law will only hurt Toronto, urging the court to strike it down and let the city clerk continue with the previously planned election.
The Ontario government says that the change will not interfere with any city resident's Charter rights to run, campaign or vote in the Oct. 22 election.
"The timing of Bill 5's enactment does not interfere with expressive activity," they say.
The province also argues that the city's clerk has conceded that switching back to a 47-ward election at this point would not be possible "without concerns for the integrity of the vote".
"This court should be particularly cautious about intervening in an ongoing electoral process," the province's lawyers warn before asking the case be dismissed and the government awarded its costs.
Ford, a failed Toronto mayoral candidate and one-term city councillor, has said he has wanted to make the change since his days at city hall despite not mentioning his plan during the spring election. He has repeatedly called Toronto city council "dysfunctional" and said its size has hindered the approval of major transit or infrastructure projects.
Wayne Petrozzi, a politics and public administration professor at Ryerson University, said he's not surprised by the strong language in the province's arguments regarding its control over municipalities.
"Historically provinces have acted ... in a heavy-handed or stark way in terms of their municipalities," he said. "It's been the case historically in Ontario where governments have reshuffled the deck in terms of what local governments look like, how it functions, how it's structured on several occasions over the last 50 years."
Petrozzi said he expects other municipalities around Ontario will be watching the court proceedings, but added that politicians in rural Ontario opposed to forced amalgamations under former premier Mike Harris were not able to successfully challenge those decisions.
"Any municipal leader who's been around for any length of time knows that it's happened before, it's happening now, it could happen again and you don't have a lot to say about it," he said.