Early this morning, Justice Edward Belobaba struck down the provisions in Bill 5 that would have reduced the size of Toronto’s city council from 47 to 25 seats. He stated the same thing that many Torontonians have been feeling: that the hasty introduction of Bill 5 with no consultation, and in the middle of an active municipal election campaign, violated our right to effective representation, and thus to freedom of expression.
Like many Torontonians, I was jubilant. This was a great day for democracy. It sent a clear signal that the provincial government could not decimate a city council or meddle in a local election. But like most Torontonians, I knew that this was not the end of it.
This afternoon, Premier Doug Ford came out swinging. He announced his intention to invoke the notwithstanding clause, a provision that allows federal and provincial governments to override certain sections of the Charter of Rights & Freedoms. One of those sections, unfortunately, is the one Justice Belobaba stated had been violated.
So how does this work? To my understanding, Premier Ford simply has to reconvene the provincial legislature, add the notwithstanding clause to Bill 5, and then put it to the vote. With a majority government, he would almost certainly succeed.
The notwithstanding clause is designed to be used as a last resort, after all other options have been exhausted, and only in extreme circumstances. The Province of Ontario has never invoked this clause. It has only been used a handful of times countrywide. And the reason it’s not commonly used is that it’s just as scary as it sounds: it means that a vindictive or misguided Premier could, at any time, take away rights and freedoms that are normally protected by the constitution. Premier Ford has, in fact, stated that he would not hesitate to use the notwithstanding clause whenever he felt the need to do so.
Right now, the law of the land states that the upcoming election will be conducted on the original 47-ward model. But if we’ve learned anything through this whole ordeal, it’s that things can change in the blink of an eye.
Whether the election is ultimately run on 47 wards or 25 wards, I am ready to serve the community in TDSB Ward 22. Over the coming days and weeks, I will be knocking on all of the doors in the ward, whatever the ward boundaries turn out to be. I look forward to meeting as many residents as possible, sharing ideas and listening to concerns.
Whatever happens with Bill 5, we are in for a bit of rough sailing. But if I have the honour of serving TDSB Ward 22, I will do everything I can to ensure that we weather the storm, and that our kids are given every possible opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.