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LETTER: Ford 'perfectly entitled' to invoke notwithstanding cause

Doug Lewis, MP from 1979 to 1993, was in Parliament when 'notwithstanding' clause was created
Doug Ford
Ontario premier Doug Ford. Chris Young/The Canadian Press

OrilliaMatters received the following letter from Doug Lewis in response to this week's decision by Premier Doug Ford to invoke the notwithstanding clause to forge ahead with plans to cut the size of Toronto City Council.


Public reaction to the Province's legislation to decrease the size of the Toronto City Council has been inflamed by media and political reaction. 

Let's look at the issue.

The biggest complaint seems to be the lack of consultation with City of Toronto officials or the public. In 1982 the Liberal government of the day announced, without any consultation with anybody, even Liberal Members of Parliament, that it was repatriating the Constitution and intended to introduce a Charter of Rights and Freeedoms.  They were intent on enacting it as is, without amendments.

In overturning the Ford administration's law, duly passed by elected members of the provincial legislature, Mr. Justice Belobaba was critical of the fact that the law was enacted in the middle of an election campaign. I always thought that election campaigns officially started when nominations closed. Sure everyone campaigns in advance of that date, but until then, nobody knows who the candidates are in each ward.

Short notice didn't bother Jennifer Keesmatt. On the last day for nominations she hopped on her bicycle, pedaled to Toronto City Hall, filed her candidacy for Mayor, and started campaigning immediately. 

Her employer who was apparently paying her a substantial salary, found out about her departure through a media release. Who needs notice and a long election campaign?

Mr. Justice Belobaba then went on to rule that doubling the average population size of the city's wards, from 61,000 to 111,000 breaches “the municipal voter's right to cast a vote that can result in effective representation.”

Where is it enshrined that a municipal voter's rights should be different from a provincial or federal voter's rights in terms of representation?  

The average federal and provincial riding in Toronto averages 111,000 people.  Ridings are established through an an Electoral Boundary Commission which meets every ten years and can take up to two years to decide on fair population limits and  boundaries.  The Province simply copies them. 

Is Mr. Justice Belobaba suggesting that federal and provincial voters in Toronto should bring an action to get their riding population averages down to the municipal average of 61,000 referencing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and his judgement?

As to the “notwithstanding clause” I can tell you where it came from because I was there when it was created. In the fall of 1982, I was appointed Deputy Opposition House Leader of the Progressive Conservatives. One of my main duties was to organize our side during Question Period as to who asked what question, of whom, and in what order.  It was a demanding and exhilarating task.

Parliamentarians worked together for six months to improve the Canada Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We were all proud of the result.

One of the main objections to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was the concern of the provinces that the federal government would legislate in provincial jurisdictions. The “nothwithstanding clause” was the solution.

Why hasn't it been used more often? Maybe because the federal and provincial governments have been careful. But it is there and can be used. Premier Ford was perfectly entitled to use it.

Elections are the best judge of a government's actions as to whether they are within all of the laws of the land, and fair. Let's see how this plays out over four years.

In the meantime, Ms. Horwath should be asked:  “Will the lead plank in your next election platform be to expand Toronto City Council back from 25 to 47 members?”           

Doug Lewis
Member of Parliament for Simcoe North from 1979 to 1993