Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller said he stands fully behind his leader’s reintroduction of legislation to decrease the number of Toronto councillors from 47 to 25 leading up to the October 22 municipal election.
“The Constitution makes it clear that provinces have the exclusive responsibility over municipalities. Virtually every legal expert including those who don’t support our government agree that this law was completely constitutional, and that’s the Bill 5 that was passed in the summer session that I’m speaking of, and within the legal power of the Province to enact,” said Miller.
On Wednesday the provincial government reintroduced the legislation on the heels of a court ruling which found it was unconstitutional because it was introduced in the middle of an election. Premier Doug Ford responded swiftly by invoking section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, commonly referred to as the notwithstanding clause. That clause has the power to override specific parts of the charter rights, referred to in the judge’s ruling.
“We believe that this judge’s decision is deeply concerning, wrong and unacceptable,” said Miller, adding that if his government had all the time in the world, it could wait to appeal the decision. “But the fact of the matter is there is a municipal election on October 22nd, so there’s not all the time in the world. So while we await that appeal, what we did yesterday is reintroduce the Better Local Government Act and with it invoke section 33 of the Constitution to overrule this wrong and unacceptable decision,” said Miller.
In terms of the timing, Miller said that obviously introducing such legislation in the middle of an election is not ideal, but based on his own personal experience as long-time member of the Opposition, elections could be called with very little warning. “I had no warning about knowing when the election would be called except knowing the end date by which it had to be called. The writ would be dropped and I’d have 30 days to Election Day. You know we’re still more than 30 days from October 22 at this point.”
He said the legislation, which has so far passed first reading, would realign the Toronto City Council boundaries with provincial and federal election boundaries. “And it is our belief that Toronto would function much more efficiently, we’ll save at least $25 million and we’ll be able to make progress on things like gridlock, which is awful in Toronto at least,” he said.
Asked about the region of Muskoka, which is represented by almost 100 councillors at both the upper and lower tiers including the District Chair, Miller responded by saying it would be wise to look at any municipal government over time. He said the same applies to the Parry Sound part of his riding. “I think it makes sense to review from time to time municipal government and municipal government is totally the responsibility of the Provincial government.”
Asked what he would say to those accusing Ford of being vindictive with Toronto residents for not electing him when he ran for Mayor, Miller shrugged it off as spin from the NDP.
“That’s certainly the spin that the NDP are putting on it. The motivation is to try to get Toronto functioning better, to save some money and to get Toronto functioning better so that they actually get some things done, because it’s been quite dysfunctional the last number of years.”
Miller said the notwithstanding clause speaks to the concept of parliamentary supremacy. “That’s what I believe section 33 was intended for. Section 33 is part of our Constitution, it doesn’t overrule the Constitution, we’re using a tool found in our Constitution for the reason it was put there,” said Miller who also quoted Jean Chretien when he was Minister of Justice in 1981 as stating that, “an override clause is to provide the flexibility that is required to ensure that legislators rather than judges have the final say on important matters of public policy.”
He said politicians are judged by the people. “If they don’t like what we’re doing, we’ll certainly pay the price for that… whereas a judge is appointed, but certainly I respect the judiciary.”
Miller said what happens next remains to be seen. He said the opposition will likely try to come up with tactics to try and slow down the passing of the Bill, “and I’m sure they’ll use all of them,” said Miller.
He said he thinks the legislation will pass and hopes the appeal to the judge’s decision occurs reasonably soon and that the Government is successful in its appeal, “because I think that will, in the public’s mind, make what we’re doing more acceptable.”
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.