Toronto council votes to challenge Doug Ford's council-slashing bill in court
Toronto City Council has voted 27-15 to challenge the legality of the Ontario government's bill that slashes the council by nearly half.
BREAKING: City council votes to push ahead with legal challenge of Ontario government’s bill slashing size of city council. Here’s the vote breakdown. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TOpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TOpoli</a> <a href="https://t.co/fs3HYWzrRF">pic.twitter.com/fs3HYWzrRF</a>—@johnrieti
Council also voted 25-17 to exhaust all legal avenues to challenge Bill 5, including appealing any rulings.
The vote occurred around 6 p.m. Monday, after a day of debate. Councillor Josh Matlow put forward the motion supporting the legal challenge of Bill 5, the Better Local Governments Act,
Councillor Matlow has moved two motions on Item CC45.1 - Legal options to challenge Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act, 2018. Watch live: <a href="https://t.co/NQVj1B95oB">https://t.co/NQVj1B95oB</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/tocouncil?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#tocouncil</a> <a href="https://t.co/XY7ogHg7ac">pic.twitter.com/XY7ogHg7ac</a>—@TorontoCouncil
Mayor John Tory called the province's decision to cut Toronto city council's ranks by almost half "wrong and unacceptable," and says he will support a court challenge.
Toronto councillors debated Monday what to do about the Progressive Conservative government's plan to slash the number of ward boundaries from 47 to 25 ahead of the Oct. 22 municipal election.
Councillors made their final arguments for and against a legal fight this afternoon, following a lengthy closed-door session. .
Tory called the province's move unprecedented.
"It is our duty to represent the people of Toronto and the best interests of this city at all times — and to make our position clear when we do not believe the actions of other levels of government are in our city's best interests," he said.
Thanks to its majority at Queen's Park, the PCs had little trouble passing the Better Local Government Act, or Bill 5, last week — less than 90 days before the fall election. However, Tory has repeatedly criticized what he calls an unacceptable process that didn't include any input from the city or its residents.
The legislation sees Toronto's municipal ward boundaries mirror those of provincial ridings. Under the 25-ward model, each councillor will represent, on average, 110,000 residents.
Council voted today whether it will instruct the city's legal team to fight the province in court — potentially joining a legal challenge already before the courts.
Ford, himself a one-term city councillor who also ran for mayor against Tory, has said the shakeup will make city hall more efficient.
Prior to Monday's meeting, the premier sent two letters to Tory saying the city should be formulating a plan to combat gun violence instead of a meeting that will "focus on saving the jobs of politicians."
Fresh nomination period underway
Bill 5 disrupted a nomination period that had been underway since May and had been slated to close on July 27 (nominations for mayor did close, as planned, on that day.)
Last week, the city clerk opted to go ahead, regardless of the outcome of Monday's meeting, and start a fresh nomination process that begins today and closes in September.
Meanwhile, city staff told a packed council chamber Monday they have been working around the clock to accommodate the 25-ward system. They estimate the switch will cost an additional $2.5 million beyond the approved election budget of $14.9 million due to the "magnitude, size and complexity."
But city clerk Ulli Watkiss warned a successful legal challenge — which could be subject to further appeals — would make it risky to go back to 47 for the fall vote. To change the process, nearly two months before, would be like "doing two elections at one time," city staff said.
Ford told Ontario municipal leaders at an annual conference this morning he has no plans to table any more legislation that would affect the size of city council elsewhere, as the issues are unique to Toronto.
"The feedback we are getting from the people on this move has been overwhelmingly positive," he said during a in Ottawa.
City's lawyer lays out city's legal options
City solicitor Wendy Walberg presented a 15-page report, called legal options to challenge Bill 5, that examines the bill's validity and constitutionality.
Walberg and staff answered questions about the report this morning at city hall. It's being debated in camera this afternoon before a public vote.
There's already a legal challenge in the works.
A judge has granted lawyer Rocco Achampong, a candidate in Ward 13, Eglinton-Lawrence, leave to challenge the Better Local Government Act in court after his request for an injunction at the Toronto division of Ontario Superior Court was denied.
A hearing is set for Aug. 31.
Achampong told CBC Toronto he's disappointed by the city's response.
"I found it rather wanting and lacking in what the city should be doing — in not only its processes, its jurisdiction and in my respectful view, its very relevance," he said.
"They shouldn't leave it to just one citizen in Toronto doing this for them."
John Mascarin, a municipal lawyer with Aird and Berlis, said constitutionally there is precedent supporting the province's power to re-construct a municipal governance structure.
"Twenty years ago when the provincial government of the day decided to amalgamate the former municipality of metropolitan Toronto with and its six constituent municipalities to create the city of Toronto and there was a a huge cry that that's not a proper democracy," he said.
"But the province still went ahead and did it, so the result aids sort of precedent here in that in Ontario and with the city of Toronto."
Mascarin pointed out that there are other grounds for Toronto to challenge the province.
"The city could argue that they had done the proper studies, the proper reports and proper consultations had been made — and the province has done nothing other than to say that there's going to be $25 million in savings, which is unsubstantiated," he said.
"So I think the city should not back away. I think they should be represented at the [Aug. 31] hearing and should put forward some cogent arguments."
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