TORONTO — An Ontario judge has struck down the provincial government’s efforts to slash the size of Toronto city council in the middle of an election, saying the move violated constitutional rights.
In a decision handed down early Monday morning, Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba said Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives interfered with the right to freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for both candidates and voters when they enacted the Better Local Government Act last month.
Bill 5 slashed the size of Toronto’s city council from 47 seats to 25 despite the fact that the campaign for the Oct. 22 election was already underway.
Belobaba sharply criticized the bill in his decision.
“There is no evidence that any other options or approaches were considered or that any consultation ever took place,” he wrote. “It appears that Bill 5 was hurriedly enacted to take effect in the middle of the city’s election without much thought at all, more out of pique than principle. “
Belobaba accepted arguments from city lawyers, who contended that reducing the number of councillors in the middle of an election is “discriminatory and arbitrary,” and violated the charter.
When announcing the planned bill, Ford had argued the move would improve decision-making on the council, where he served one term. He also said the move would save $25 million.
Ford said Monday morning that he’d respond to the court’s decision later in the day.
“I’ll have more to say about this at noon,” Ford said on social media. “Stay tuned.”
Bill 5 also cancelled planned elections for the head of council position in the regional municipalities of Muskoka, Peel, York and Niagara, turning them into appointed roles. Belobaba said his ruling does not impact that aspect of the bill.