THUNDER BAY – Michael Gravelle does not recall a time during the Liberals' 15-year run forming government in Ontario when his party ever had the notwithstanding clause on the table.
Yet, just months into the Progressive Conservative’s fledgling provincial government, Premier Doug Ford on Monday announced the section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will be invoked to bypass a Superior Court of Justice ruling that undermined his efforts to slash the number of wards in the city of Toronto in time for next month’s municipal election.
“Certainly it was never used and has never been used in previous governments – Conservative, NDP and Liberal governments,” Gravelle said on Tuesday, one day before members are to be called back to Queen’s Park for the government to reintroduce the legislation.
“There’s no question that this is a bit of a shock for everyone that indeed Premier Ford has chosen to use the notwithstanding clause for this particular piece of legislation.”
Ford earlier this summer announced his plan to reduce Toronto from 47 councillors to 25 on the same day the nomination window for candidates closed. The court ruling comes just six weeks before voting day, casting even more chaos into the city’s election.
The government is also planning to bring the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
Gravelle said the notwithstanding clause had been viewed as an emergency button and is concerned about Ford’s comments that he wouldn’t rule out invoking it again.
“To use it in a manner that is anything other than an extremely significant constitutional point of view is worrying,” Gravelle said. “The government is appealing the decision and that’s appropriate. What’s not appropriate is to use the notwithstanding clause in the charter to override this legal decision. This is not a good example of how that should be used.”
Judith Monteith-Farrell, the rookie NDP MPP for Thunder Bay-Atikokan, said the situation is more than a Toronto issue.
“I think all municipalities should expect that if you get onto Doug Ford’s radar and he doesn’t like something that you’re doing, he’s going to interfere,” Monteith-Farrell said.
“In this case, it’s in the middle of an election. People had registered and that’s what was ruled on, that those people’s rights were being impacted.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had labelled Ford’s actions as a “personal vendetta against his political enemies” at Toronto city hall.
“We need to see that there’s an attack on democracy and the rule of law. We hope that we don’t live in a dictatorship and that laws should matter and that courts should matter,” Monteith-Farrell said. “Politicians should abide and hold those laws dear.”