It’s been a tumultuous week in the provincial capital.
On Monday morning, an Ontario Superior Court Judge ruled that Doug Ford’s plan to slash the size of Toronto’s council almost in half violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In response, the premier, for the first time in Ontario history, invoked the constitution’s ‘notwithstanding’ clause to override the judge’s decision. Two days later, every one of the MPPs in his majority government voted in favour of the ploy in a Queen’s Park vote.
That vote was marred by demonstrations, led to police taking away protesters in handcuffs and prompted massive public rallies at Nathan Phillips Square.
On Thursday, the chaos spilled over into Toronto City Hall when city councillors voted to instruct their lawyer to pursue legal action and, potentially, take the matter to the Supreme Court.
Orillia lawyer Doug Downey, the MPP for Barrie/Springwater/Oro-Medonte, told OrilliaMatters he supports the use of the notwithstanding clause.
“When you look at the tools available, you can seek a stay of the order which we are doing,” said Downey. “You can seek to appeal it, which we are doing and because time is of the essence, the other tool is the notwithstanding clause. It was put in there for a reason and I think it’s within the tool box to achieve the goals we set out to do.”
Downey, who said he was “quite surprised by the court decision and (its) tone” said this ruling is why the notwithstanding clause was created.
“It’s there to allow for the balance between the decision making of the courts and the decision making of government – that’s what it’s there for and that’s what its being used for.”
Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop agrees.
“While I understand there were those who took issue with the timing of the introduction of the bill, we wanted to start saving Ontarian taxpayers $25 million right away, in addition to getting their municipal government working in the most efficient way possible,” said Dunlop.
Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson said this is a decision that should be made by those elected to office.
“Our government has a great deal of respect for our judicial system but law-making power is given, by the people, to Ontario’s elected representatives,” said Wilson. “Section 33 exists for the very reason we are using it – to make sure that it is the elected legislature that passes laws in our province. We represent the will of the people, and in our democracy, the elected MPPs are the ones who make the laws."
Dunlop said she has received feedback from people both for and against the political manoeuvre.
“I received feedback from those who did not support the Act, taking issue with the timing of the act and in their opinion, the misuse of Section 33,” said Dunlop. “I appreciated these comments and, consequently, researched the constitutional intention of Section 33 and determined that, unfortunately, our government had been left with no other option because of the events that occurred after the democratic process and passing of Bill 5.”
She said she also has heard from many who agreed with the move.
“The decision to support the reintroduction of Bill 5 was made to best represent the residents of Simcoe North, Ontarians, and the democratic process,” said Dunlop.
York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney, the Attorney General in Ford's cabinet, said she believes the government's plan is constitutional.
“We believe that the legislature’s decision to reduce the size of Toronto City council and bring voter parity to Toronto is constitutional," Mulroney said. "That is why our government has appealed the ruling and is seeking a stay of the Superior Court’s decision. We have also introduced new legislation to invoke Section 33 of the Charter because voters need certainty about the rules under which this election will be conducted.
"Section 33 provides a mechanism so that where there is a disagreement between a judge and the legislature surrounding the constitutionality of a law, the people get the final say.”
Downey conceded the timing, with a municipal election just 38 days away, was “not ideal.”
He said some have said they “agree 100 percent with what you’re trying to achieve, but they are concerned about timing,” said Downey. “It’s not ideal but we’re also ... being very clear on what we intend to do as opposed to leaving it to the court to make a decision in their time and leaving people in limbo.”
He also addressed the opposition’s comments about tackling this issue, saying it was not on the radar during the campaign.
“We talked a lot about reducing the size of government and cost savings in government,” countered Downey. “We talked about making life more affordable for people, generally, we talked about the size of government we deal with and municipalities are within the purview of the province.”
He said MPPs will also investigate themselves. “We’re not just looking at (municipalities.) We’re looking at ourselves as part of the line by line review … there is a ton of work being done about reducing the cost of government for the average person.”
Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin did not reply to multiple requests for comment.