Toronto Liberal MPs slam Ford's 'heavy-handed' use of notwithstanding clause
Ontario Premier Doug Ford arrives at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Thursday, September 13, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
OTTAWA -- All 25 Liberal MPs from Toronto say Ontario Premier Doug Ford is being heavy-handed and disrespectful in using the Constitution's notwithstanding clause to push ahead with plans to slash the size of the provincial capital's city council.
In a statement made public Thursday, the MPs implored Ontario legislators from all parties to defeat a bill tabled by Ford's Progressive Conservative government to cut the number of seats on council by almost half.
Ford is invoking the rarely used notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to override a court decision that found the move to be unconstitutional.
In the statement, the Liberal MPs -- including several cabinet ministers -- said members of the Ontario legislature from Toronto have a responsibility to defend the city, its democratic institutions, and the rights of citizens to a free and fair municipal election this fall.
"As elected representatives of the city, we want to assure the people of Toronto that we understand and respect the critical role that city hall and local democracy play in building the communities in which we live," the statement said.
"As Toronto MPs, we have worked hard to build a strong and effective relationship between our government and the city. This partnership has, and will continue to, deliver concrete results for communities across the city.
"A strong Canada needs a strong Toronto."
Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Science Minister Kirsty Duncan are among the more than two dozen Liberals representing Toronto ridings.
Previous Ontario premiers have faced tough decisions over the decades without having to resort to the notwithstanding clause, said Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin, a spokeswoman for the Toronto caucus.
Ontario legislators "need to the voice of Ontarians on this, that this isn't the right way to go," she said in an interview.
The Liberal MPs say the issue is not partisan and that the correct response to a court decision is to file an appeal.
Toronto city councillors voted Thursday to ask the federal government to halt the Ontario bill.
A provision of the Constitution technically permits the federal government to disallow provincial legislation, but it was last used 75 years ago, raising legal questions about whether it has become obsolete and therefore unworkable.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it clear he won't try to block Ford's move even though he is disappointed with the premier's decision -- a position he reiterated Thursday at the end of a Liberal caucus retreat in Saskatoon.
"I don't think that's a role that the federal government needs to take on," he said.
However, the prime minister added he was pleased to see the Toronto Liberals speaking out.
"Quite frankly, it's something that I expect of all our MPs -- to be strong voices for their communities in Ottawa," he said.