Toronto’s municipal election has weathered a whirlwind of legal conflicts this year. The city is now preparing for a 25-ward election this October following a Court of Appeal decision on Sept. 19.
Wards have been redrawn, incumbents are set to battle other incumbents and Toronto voters are left trying to figure out what the new ward boundaries are and who the candidates are within them.
With the election under a month away, this is how we got here.
The Ontario government passed Bill 5: The Better Local Government Act on Aug. 14. Members of the provincial government designed this bill to align Toronto’s municipal wards with federal and provincial ridings.
The province has given many reasons for this move.
“The fact [is] that Bill 5 reduces the size of that council [and] provides a more stream-lined council,” Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said at Queen’s Park on Aug. 7.
Progressive Conservative Mississauga East-Cooksville MPP Kaleed Rasheed said reducing council size will save Toronto taxpayers around $25 million over the next four years.
Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled Sept. 10 that Bill 5 was unconstitutional and it infringed on both voter and candidate rights.
The province then immediately drafted Bill 31: Efficient Local Government Act, which was nearly identical to Bill 5, but it utilized Section 33 of the Charter: the notwithstanding clause. This clause allows the province to supersede the court’s ruling and push through legislation.
Legal professionals criticized the use of this clause. University of Toronto Law Professor Brenda Cossman penned an open letter, cosigned by law professors across Canada, chastising Premier Ford’s use of the clause.
She wrote that using the notwithstanding clause is deeply troubling.
“You have claimed that a majority government can not only ignore court rulings, but that it is also free to set aside constitutional rights,” Cossman said.
Premier Doug Ford has since decided not to use Bill 31 and the notwithstanding clause, following the Court of Appeal’s stay of Belobaba’s ruling.
For candidates running in the election, the change has been a challenge.
“I lost a whole week of campaigning because of all the flip-flopping back and forth between 47 and 25,” Carol Royer, a candidate in Ward 1, said.
Royer said education has become a part of campaigning for her.
“I tell my volunteers three minutes at the door then move on, but we were spending much more than three minutes because people were asking questions like, ‘who’s running, what Ward are we in?’ The confusion was too much,” she said.