Justice Belobaba of the Ontario Superior Court issued judgment today in favour of the Applicant challengers of the Government of Ontario’s Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act. The BLGA acted to, inter alia, reduce the number of wards in the ongoing Toronto municipal election from 47 to 25, aligning them with the Federal and Provincial ridings established by Elections Canada and nearly doubling the average ward population from 61,000 to 111,000.
The Challenge was first brought by Rocco Achampong, lawyer and candidate for City Council, following the introduction of the BLGA in the Legislature on 31 July 2018. The Bill received urgent attention and passed second and third reading and received royal assent on 14 August 2018. Following an urgent meeting by City Council, Toronto brought a separate application challenging the legislation, as did a group of individual applicants and several intervenors.
While the hearing canvassed the issues of procedural fairness, delegation authority, discriminatory effect under s.15, and many others, Justice Belobaba confined himself in his reasons to discussing only the arguments on which he based his decision to invalidate the legislation: its impact on s.2 free speech and participation rights of candidates, who had previously registered under known rules and for known constituencies that would be dramatically altered by the legislation; and its impact on the s.2 free speech and participation rights of electors, who (at nearly double the relative councillor density) would lack access to local government through their local councillor in their role as community ombudsman.
The Crown has said it will appeal the decision; Premier Doug Ford has announced that the legislature will invoke the notwithstanding clause in order to circumvent the Court’s decision.
Gavin Magrath, Rocco K. Achampong, and Selwyn Pieters appeared for the Applicant Rocco Achampong.