Appeal court stays decision that set aside law slashing Toronto city council size
The Court of Appeal for Ontario has granted the province’s request to stay a lower court judge’s decision that set aside a law slashing the size of Toronto city council.
By granting a stay, there will be 25 wards instead of 47 in the upcoming municipal election as originally set out in Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act.
The decision was released Wednesday morning after a three-judge panel heard submissions for and against the request from lawyers representing the provincial government, the city of Toronto and several 2018 election candidates on Tuesday at Osgoode Hall.
Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba set aside Bill 5 in a ruling on Sept. 10. He found the government interfered with the right to freedom of expression for both candidates and voters when the province passed the law last month.
Belobaba found the reduction of wards in the middle of the Toronto election substantially interfered with municipal voters’ freedom of expression and the “right to cast a vote that can result in effective representation.”
Premier Doug Ford, who has argued the changes will improve decision-making and save $25 million over four years, announced hours after Belobaba’s decision that his government would file an appeal in court and retable the law in the Ontario legislature while invoking the notwithstanding clause.
In court on Tuesday, Robin Basu, a lawyer for the province of Ontario, said the government wouldn’t vote on Bill 31 (the Efficient Local Government Act) if the court quashed Belobaba’s decision.
Basu argued the 25-ward model proposed under both bills achieves voter parity in the 2018 election. However, the city of Toronto’s ward boundary review found creating wards with voter parity won’t be realized until the 2026 election. He argued a stay would allow city staff to plan one election scenario versus two.
Opponents argued that the Ontario government’s move to pass Bill 5 midway through the Toronto election nomination period affected candidates’ abilities to communicate with voters in an effective way, therefore affecting freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
After Tuesday’s hearing, some of the lawyers representing candidates floated the possibility of appealing a stay decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. However, it’s unclear how quickly an application would be heard by the court.
More to come.