Wednesday afternoon, the Ontario government brought back the province’s Legislature and tabled the Efficient Local Government Act.
If passed, the act would invoke Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and ensure the City of Toronto’s wards and the number of councillors are aligned to 25 ahead of the upcoming municipal election on October 22.
“We were elected on a commitment to make government work more effectively and efficiently for the people,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement.
“Today, we introduced new legislation to help us do just that for the people of Toronto. We have brought back the legislature to ensure there will be an election on October 22 in the city of Toronto, for 25 city councillors.”
The recently elected provincial government claims that reducing the size of City Council is estimated to save Toronto taxpayers more than $25.5 million over four years.
According to the provincial government, “a smaller, more efficient council would end political gridlock at City Hall and make sure quick action is taken to get transit, infrastructure and housing built.”
“A streamlined city council will reduce the cost of government for Toronto taxpayers and speed up decision-making,” said Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “We’re acting once again to make sure Toronto council is ready to put the needs of everyday people first.”
During Wednesday’s Legislature, Ontario’s opposing NDP MPPs were ejected one-by-one from the chamber as they continued to pound on their desks to protest tabling of the bill.
NDP MPPs gather after being ejected from the legislative chamber. Standing up for all those Ontarians disgusted with Ford’s attack on people’s fundamental rights.
— Ontario NDP (@OntarioNDP) September 12, 2018
NDP MPP Jeff Burch said he’s proud to have been removed, adding that he stands with the people who were also kicked out of Legislature Wednesday morning.
I’m proud to have been kicked out of the legislature. This government intends to override our Charter rights now and in the future. The people were kicked out of their legislature this morning; I stand with them. #TheOpposition #onpoli
— Jeff Burch (@JeffBurch_) September 12, 2018
Amnesty International said it condemned the Ontario government’s tabling of today’s legislation.
“No government in Canada should take the contemptuous step of disregard for the Charter of Rights that the notwithstanding clause offers them,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.
“To do so in a case involving the fundamental freedom of expression in a context in which core principles around elections and the underpinnings of our democracy are at stake is particularly disgraceful. This invocation of section 33 by Premier Ford’s government should be withdrawn immediately. Questions about the interpretation and application of the Charter should be pursued through appeals and left to judges to determine.”
The legislation came in response to the judgement of Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba earlier this week, which said that the ruling violated freedom of expression rights of both voters and candidates, protected in section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights.
According to Amnesty International, the Charter’s notwithstanding clause, “often defended as a compromise or safety valve, is a blatant human rights escape clause, allowing governments to violate Charter rights without judicial scrutiny or oversight. As such it makes it possible for federal, provincial or territorial governments to contravene Canada’s international human rights obligations in circumstances which would not be upheld or justified by the courts or by international human rights bodies.”
It said that there is no need and should be no place for such a crude provision as the notwithstanding clause, and the organizational is calling on all governments in Canada to refrain from invoking it.