Opposition erupts in legislature as PC government reintroduces bill to cut council
Chris Herhalt , CP24.com
Published Wednesday, September 12, 2018 5:09AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 12, 2018 9:09PM EDT
The Ford government reintroduced its legislation to cut Toronto City Hall in half and formally invoked the notwithstanding clause on Wednesday afternoon, prompting most NDP MPPs to scream and bang on their desks until they were escorted out of the legislative chamber.
The new bill, The Efficient Local Government Act or Bill 31, extends the nomination deadline for council candidates until two days after the day the bill becomes law and gives the city clerk the option to forego advance polling entirely if need be.
“The Premier and I made it very clear that while we were disappointed with the judge's decision a couple of days ago, we had the legislative tools including invoking Section 33 of the Charter to be able to table a bill that will run this council," Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark told CP24.
“I am the housing minister, I want to help the Toronto council build housing. My colleague the minister of transportation wants to make transit improvements, the minister of infrastructure wants to work with city hall to build new infrastructure.”
As Clark stood to read the title of the bill for the first time, NDP MPPs started to shout and bang loudly on their desks.
IN PHOTOS: New bill to cut council sparks protest
Speaker Ted Arnott ordered the sergeant-at-arms to escort each MPP engaging in the noise out of the chamber. One by one, she removed 34 of the party's 40 elected members.
For his part, Premier Doug Ford mock clapped along with the opposition and shook his head.
“This is something that we don’t do often, but we thought it was extremely important today to clearly show our concern with what the government is doing and represent all those voices Mr. Ford is trying to silence,” Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said.
With most of the Official Opposition outside of the chamber, the bill passed first reading 63-17. Twelve PC MPPs were absent for the vote.
Horwath says there are other measures her party will take to slow the bill down as it must be debated and voted on two more times.
“We will do everything that we possibly can, not only to slow this government down from its reckless speedy path that it's on. And there will be things we will be able to bring forward to try to do that.”
Ford's parliamentary secretary, King-Vaughan MPP Stephen Lecce said the government was doing what was necessary and the opposition was taking massive steps to defend “20 downtown elite jobs" at the expense of working people.”
“I think it is an abdication of leadership by kicking the can down the road,” Lecce said of the NDP's noise and theatrics.
Earlier on Wednesday, Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said invoking the notwithstanding clause to pass the new bill was necessary to ensure the election took place because time is of the essence.
“We have decided to use a legal tool that is available to the legislature, so we are using that tool to ensure that the people of Toronto have the rules and the clarity that they need for this election.”
She brushed aside the fact that her father, former prime minister Brian Mulroney, has long opposed the fact that governments can use the notwithstanding clause to outflank the charter and pass unconstitutional legislation.
“He was opposed to the notwithstanding clause when it was introduced but he recognizes and said yesterday that it is a legal tool that legislatures can use.”
Justice Edward Belobaba found the Ford government's first attempt, known as Bill 5 or the Better Local Government Act, was unconstitutional and “crossed the line.”
In a written decision issued Monday, the justice ruled that the bill violated Toronto candidates’ and voters’ charter right to freedom of expression because it nearly halved the size of council and was executed in the middle of a campaign.
The ruling restored the number of wards in Toronto to 47, from the 25 legislated by the province.
In response, Ford revealed he would invoke the notwithstanding clause, meant to override sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for the first time in the province’s history.
The notwithstanding clause allows the government to bypass the court ruling and introduce new legislation to cut the size of council back down to 25 seats in time for Oct. 22.
The Ford government is also appealing Justice Belobaba's decision, Mulroney said, saying it will now make it’s way through the courts.
She said that she felt the original case was “wrongly decided.”
During question period on Wednesday morning, people in the public gallery started shouting and coughing, grinding question period to a halt and forcing the government side of the bench to walk out. Legislative guards eventually had to drag out and handcuff several opponents of the bill.
Ten minutes into the session, several dozen people in the gallery began coughing in unison, and then started shouting at the government side of the house.
“Save our democracy, we are the people,” one man yelled.
The Sergeant-at-arms then approached the public galleries and told everyone inside that they must leave on the order of Speaker Ted Arnott.
All but four complied.
The resisters were taken one by one in handcuffs and escorted out of the chamber.
One elderly woman sitting in the west public gallery sat down and refused to get up as two legislative guards tried to convince her to leave on her own accord.
She was eventually escorted out by the guards.
“I am 77-and-a-half years-old and I hate the destruction of democracy in this province,” she yelled and she was taken out.
The Legislative Security Office tells CTV News Toronto that two people were charged under the Trespass to Property Act and the matter was referred to Toronto police.
About 20 minutes later, with most of the public gallery forcibly cleared, the government returned.
“Why are people being taken out of the chamber in handcuffs so that he can get his way,” NDP leader Andrea Horwath said.
Ford replied that voters put him in office to make changes to the City of Toronto.
“I will remind the leader of the opposition that we were elected on making sure we fix this city,” he said, adding that the NDP only opposes the move to cut council to support the “paid activists" at city hall.
The Liberals then suggested they would offer a “reasoned amendment” to the bill, prompting Ford to call them the “minivan party,” referring to the fact that all seven of their elected members could fit inside a family minivan.
“It is a shame that our premier is such a petty vindictive human being whose focus is on himself and his own quest to show those folks in Toronto that he is the boss of them, give me a break,”
Horwath said outside the chamber.
She said the removal of people in the legislature’s public gallery was a disgraceful moment.
“Literally you had grandmas and grandpas get dragged out of the gallery in handcuffs.”
She said the NDP may have arranged for people to receive passes to attend question period but said she did not organize their dissent.
“We are happy to provide anybody a pass to attend the gallery, did we take on the organizing of this? Absolutely not. But I am proud that people believe they have a right to come into this chamber and show their displeasure.”
“I have a court of law I can go to. That’s the only thing that stands in between me and my government oranyone else who is trying to do me wrong,” Sharon Howarth said while standing in line to enter the gallery.
“That court said what he is trying to do goes against me.”
Nominations for council candidates were supposed to close for the 25-ward election on Friday but candidates have not been able to register since Monday’s court decision, according to the city clerk. All candidates who have registered must now indicate in writing to the city clerk if they still intend to stand for election on Oct. 22, the new law states.
Ford has said he is continuing with the legislation because city council at its current size is “dysfunctional” and shrinking would save $25 million per term.
His opponents say he is doing this as a means to punish councillors he disagreed with when he was a councillor himself between 2010 and 2014.
Liberal interim leader John Fraser said Ford's use of the notwithstanding clause now means he will use it again.
“Reasonable people will look at what the premier is saying and think ‘he’s using it now, when will he use it again?’
“There is a reason we have courts and the Charter of Rights, it is to create that balance, to ensure that the individual rights and civil liberties of every person who lives in this province and Canada are respected when we make laws,” he said.
Tory and several current councillors have also voiced their opposition to the council cut and the use of the notwithstanding clause.
Former PC Premier Bill Davis has also publicly come out against Ford's use of the notwithstanding clause.