In a major victory for Premier Doug Ford’s government, the province has won its fight to hold a 25-ward election in Toronto.
The Ontario Court of Appeal released the decision Wednesday morning. The election is scheduled for Oct. 22.
“We’re pumped,” Government House Leader Todd Smith told reporters.
The court is granting a stay of proceedings on last week’s Superior Court ruling that quashed Bill 5, which downsized Toronto council from 47 to 25 wards midway through the election campaign.
Progressive Conservative MPPs were jubilant during question period, with Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark reading the court’s decision to the NDP.
The unanimous decision included a clear smackdown of the lower court judge’s ruling, which it called “dubious,” suggesting there was a “strong likelihood” he erred.
The province requested the stay while it appeals Justice Edward Belobaba’s ruling that Bill 5 is unconstitutional.
The panel of three judges ruled less than a day after hearing arguments on the motion.
Justices Robert Sharpe and Gary Trotter and Associate Chief Justice Alexandra Hoy found Belobaba’s interpretation of the charter “appears to stretch both the wording and the purpose” of Section 2(b), which protects the right to freedom of expression.
Progressive Conservative MPP Stephen Lecce said the decision puts to rest any doubts about Toronto’s ability to hold an election in just over three weeks.
“We had an interest in providing certainty to both the candidates and the public, and this will do that,” he said.
Last week, city clerk Ulli Watkiss said she was at a “tipping point,” because she couldn’t keep preparing for two different elections and at the same time ensure a fair election.
Candidates who were registered to run in one of Toronto’s 47 wards will have two days to decide whether they will run under the 25-ward model and register.
The Progressive Conservatives never campaigned on a promise to slash the size of Toronto city council. The surprise move sparked fierce debate and outrage in the city.
Opposition MPPs dismissed the move as Ford settling scores in a “vendetta” against former colleagues and political rivals at Toronto city hall. The province’s decision to single out Toronto for the council downsizing was proof of this, according to the NDP and Liberals.
In question period on Wednesday, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark told MPPs the smaller council will be able to make decisions faster and save taxpayers money.
Liberal MPP Michael Coteau shouted back, “Do it in your hometowns, then!”
In addition to the appeal, the province has tabled Bill 31, which repeats Bill 5 and adds the unprecedented use of the notwithstanding clause to override the Charter rights that Belobaba said were breached.
Smith confirmed to reporters Wednesday afternoon that the government will no longer call votes on the bill, but it will stay on the order paper. In case the province didn’t win the stay, the government forced weekend and overnight sittings of the legislature in order to get Bill 31 passed as soon as possible.
The earliest it could have been enacted was Thursday.
On Tuesday, a government lawyer told the court that Ford’s government wouldn’t enact Bill 31 if it won the stay.
The outstanding question remains what happens to the election result of a 25-ward model if the province ultimately loses its appeal.
Mayor John Tory told reporters that the city would continue to pursue the appeal, but he also said that if he wins re-election in October, he is “absolutely determined” to make the smaller council work.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath refused to give the win to Ford, pointing out there could be a different decision in the appeal. She added that “chaos” and “uncertainty” continue because of that.
Nominations open again for Toronto election after province’s legal victory
Nominations are once again open for candidates wishing to take part in the Toronto municipal election that’s been at the centre of a provincial political storm.
Premier Doug Ford’s decision to slash the size of the city’s council from 47 to 25 seats in the middle of the election campaign touched off a complex battle that initially saw a judge finding the plan unconstitutional.
But Ontario’s highest court sided with the province yesterday, suspended the lower court ruling and established a 25-ward electoral map for the looming October election.
The city says it’s reopened nominations today for those hoping to run either for city council or school board trustee.
Candidates have until 4:30 p.m. on Friday to file their nomination papers in person.
The election is scheduled for Oct. 22.