Judge’s September 10th Ruling Applies To Toronto Only. What About The Freedoms Of Candidates Impacted By Ford’s Act – Also Known As Bill 5 – In Niagara & Three Other Ontario Regions?
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted September 10th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
An Ontario Superior Court Judge began this week of Monday, September 10th by delivering a serious blow to the part of Premier Doug Ford’s so-called “Better Local Government Act” that would slash the number of Toronto city councillors following this October 22nd municipal elections from 47 to 25.
Unfortunately, the Judge’s ruling reportedly did nothing to overturn or address that part of Ford’s bill that – suddenly and without warning this past July 27th – cancelled region-wide elections in Niagara, York, Peel and Muskoka for who will serve for the next four years, as Chair of Regional Council in those four regions.
That part of the bill that cancelled elections for Chair in Niagara and the other three regions – tabled by Ford, without any apparent warning, on the last day for registering as a candidate – left those who had registered to run for Chair in Niagara, including Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn and incumbent Al Caslin, scrambling to re-register as candidates for a regional council seat in their respective municipalities of Pelham and St. St. Catharines.
Another individual who had earlier launched a campaign to run for Regional Chair – a former Welland mayor, Damian Goulbourne, decided not to re-register as a candidate for one of the two directly elected regional council seats in Welland.
Augustyn and others across Niagara, including the area’s NDP MPPs, condemned Ford’s ‘Better Local Government Act’ as an “assault on local democracy,” but only the City of Toronto decided to challenge the legislation in the courts.
In his ruling this September 10th, Ontario Superior Court Judge Edward Belobaba said the Act, imposed as it was by Ford, on the final morning residents across the province had an opportunity to register as a candidate for municipal office in this October’s elections, constitutes a “violation “of a municipal candidate’s “freedom of expression that is guaranteed under (Canada’s) Charter of Rights.”
The Judge also ruled that the significant reduction in the number of council seats and wards in Toronto, “from an average of about 61,000 (city residents per ward) to 111,000 substantially interfered with the municipal voter’s freedom of expression under … the Charter of Rights.”
Judge Belobaba went on to conclude that these violations of the Charter “cannot be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
Within hours of the ruling’s release, Ford responded by declaring that his self-described “Government for the People” will appeal it and will also be go so far as to – for the first time in Ontario history – employ the Charter’s “notwithstanding clause,” usually reserved for emergencies on the level of an act of war or terrorist attack, to re-introduce the part of the legislation that slashes Toronto’s council as soon as possible.
According to Ford, it is appropriate for him to make this unprecedented move because he – unlike the “appointed judge” – is the leader of a democratically elected majority government and because he is acting to fulfill a promise he made in last spring’s provincial election to reduce the size of government.
However, Ford never specifically said he was thinking of halving the number of seats on Toronto’s council. Nor did he ever hint, prior to last June’s vote, that he would cancel a decision by Ontario’s former Liberal government to allow general elections for council chairs in Niagara and the three other regions, and allow a continuation of a decades-old practice of having chair’s elected by other members of council.
A majority on Niagara’s current Caslin-led regional council voted against the idea of electing the char at large when it was raised three years ago by representatives from the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce. Some regional councillors argued, rather paternallistically, that they are better able to choose a suitable individual to serve as chair than voters at large.
For this term of the Region’s council, a majority of the councillors chose Caslin, who now finds himself enmeshed in controversy over the 2016 hiring of the Region’s current CAO, Carmen D’Angelo, and his more recent decision to unilaterally extend D’Angelo’s contract and allegedly write in terms that would pay out more money to D’Angelo should this council or the next one choose, for some reason, to let him go.
When Ford decided last July 27th to cancel region-wide elections for the chair’s position, a Canadian Press story reported that Caslin greeted the decision “as welcome news.”
“We’re back where we started, I guess,” Caslin said.
We are back where we started, alright.
And if all of the last-minute pulling the rug out from under plans for region-wide elections for the chair in Niagara and three other regions isn’t enough, now Ford and company are charging off like a a herd of rogue elephants to overturn the Judge’s ruling on the Toronto elections, just weeks before voters head to the polls.
All of this brought to us by a Ford government elected by less than 40 per cent of those who went to the polls in the provincial elections this past June.
It should have most Ontario residents shuttering over what this ‘buck-a-beer’ premier is going to do next.
Meanwhile, many of Ford’s critics are questioning why he has to move so fast to make such fundamental changes to municipal governance in Ontario. Why can’t the changes he wants to make be more carefully reviewed in consultation with members of the public in time for the 2022 municipal elections?
What is the big rush? And why aren’t region-wide elections for the Chair’s job good enough for voters in Niagara, Peel, York and Muskoka when other voters across Ontario have been picking the person to hold the top job on their councils for decades now?
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