The debate over Ontario Premier’s plans enters a new round
By Naomi Ambrose, Contributor
The battle between Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba has intensified.
Superior Court Justice Belobaba ruled that Ford’s plan to reduce the current 47 wards in Toronto to 25 wards—a plan that is more formally known as Bill 5 or The Better Local Government Act—infringes upon the “freedom of expression” aspect of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for voters and candidates. This infringement is pertinent—especially considering the fact that the act emerges in the middle of Toronto’s election campaign. The city’s vote is scheduled for October 22 this year.
In a document obtained via the Ontario Superior Court of Justice website, Judge Belobaba stated that the Act “substantially interfered with both the candidate’s and the voter’s right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Belobaba said that a drastic reduction of the number of wards reduces fair representation for the large number of voters in Toronto.
With regards to the candidates’ infringement of their freedom of expression, Judge Belobaba wrote that “candidates spent more time on doorsteps addressing the confusing state of affairs with potential voters than discussing relevant political issues. The candidates’ efforts to convey their political message about the issues in their particular ward were severely frustrated and disrupted.”
Judge Belobaba also elaborated about this unprecedented situation.
“Never before has a Canadian government meddled with democracy like the Province of Ontario did when, without notice, it fundamentally altered the City of Toronto’s governance structure in the middle of the City’s election,” he wrote.
In a press release from the Office of the Ontario Premier, Ford announced that his government will immediately appeal Judge Belobaba’s decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
“I believe this decision is deeply concerning and wrong,” said Ford.
In addition to the appeal, several news reports have stated that Ford intends to use the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to disregard the Judge’s decision. The notwithstanding clause allows the government to make laws that violate the Charter.
Ford’s reported decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause has been met with fierce opposition. In a press release issued by the Ontario NDP, Andrea Horwath, the Leader of the Official Opposition, called Ford’s plan to “invoke the notwithstanding clause and suspend part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for Ontarians an unprecedented abuse of power.”