Ford defends bill cutting Toronto city council as protesters, fist-pounding NDP MPPs removed from legislature

TORONTO — Ontario’s legislature plunged into chaos Wednesday as
protesters and most of the Opposition were ejected for
disrupting the government’s efforts to revive a bill slashing
Toronto’s city council nearly in half just days after a judge
found the legislation unconstitutional.

Shouts erupted from the public gallery and some hecklers were
led out in handcuffs as Premier Doug Ford argued he was
protecting democracy by invoking a constitutional provision to
override the court decision, which found his plan to cut
council during an election campaign violated freedom of
expression rights.

“This is about preserving the will of the people, this is about
preserving democracy,” Ford said, citing his Progressive
Conservatives’ victory in the spring election.

Asked whether he believed in the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms, the premier said a democratically elected government
should not be derailed by a “politically appointed” judge. Ford
has maintained cutting Toronto city council to 25 seats from 47
is necessary to streamline decision-making and save taxpayer

protester in the public gallery is handcuffed by Queens Park
Legislature Security during question period at the Ontario
Legislature in Toronto on Wednesday, September 12, 2018.

Young/Canadian Press

The council-cutting bill and the notwithstanding clause that
will ensure its implementation — a provision being used for the
first time in Ontario — were introduced by Ford’s government
Wednesday afternoon following a commotion from the Opposition

The New Democrats attempted to drown out the reading of the
bill by banging on their desks, prompting the Speaker to kick
most of their ranks, including Leader Andrea Horwath, out of
the house. Horwath said her party members had launched their
protest to show they wouldn’t accept Ford’s “heavy-handed”
decision lightly.

Earlier in the day, members of the public in the legislature
voiced their own discontent by coughing in unison to drown out
the premier when he tried to speak. That disruption quickly
turned into a series of shouts and heckles.

“Shame on you, this is not democracy,” one man shouted at the
premier. “We are the people.”

Premier Doug Ford leaves the Queens Park Legislative Chamber
after the PC Provincial Government introduced “The Efficient
Local Government Act” at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto, on
Wednesday September 12, 2018.

The commotion drew repeated reprimands from the Speaker, who
briefly recessed the house. The public gallery was cleared of
all spectators and at least two protesters were handcuffed and
taken away by security officers.

Laura Barrett, a Toronto supply teacher who lined up to watch
the debate but couldn’t make it inside before the gallery was
shut down, said she wanted to show her disapproval at what she
called a “constitutional tragedy.”

“It’s totally antithetical to the idea of democracy and it’s a
real mess,” she said of Ford’s decision to push ahead with the
council-cutting plan, calling it absurd to reduce democracy to
voting every four years.

“That’s the whole point of the charter, it outlives and
outlasts any one political movement or party…it goes to our
fundamental rights as people. So don’t trample on those, but
especially not for this, this is the pettiest thing.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is ejected from the Queens Park
Legislative Chamber as the PC Provincial Government introduce
“The Efficient Local Government Act” at the Ontario Legislature
in Toronto , on Wednesday September 12, 2018.

The action at the legislature took place during an emergency
session called by Ford — his second since taking office in June
— after the court decision that went against his government
earlier this week.

The province’s use of the notwithstanding clause to forge ahead
with their council-cutting plans has drawn condemnation from
critics, who’ve said the provision was not designed to deal
with this kind of issue.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has said invoking the notwithstanding
clause is a “gross overreach” of the province’s powers, adding
city staff will advise councillors at a special meeting on
Thursday how the municipality can proceed with the upcoming
Oct. 22 election.

Horwath accused the premier of trampling people’s rights to
pursue a personal vendetta against Toronto, where Ford served
one term as a city councillor and unsuccessfully ran for mayor.

“It’s a black eye for our province,” she said. “It’s 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’s the boss of them.”

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said his party would
introduce an amendment to the bill that could delay its passage
after it is reintroduced.

“There was chaos inside here today,” he said. “The premier has
made a decision that has created instability and uncertainty
and divided people.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the premier appears to
believe that winning a majority means he is above the law.

“It is wrong for the premier to attack our fundamental charter
rights for political gain,” he said in a statement. “He is
bringing a dangerous view of democracy to Queen’s Park,
predicated on his belief that he can rule by decree.”

Political analysts said it’s difficult to gauge how the move is
playing out among residents in the absence of public opinion
polls on the issue, but predicted it would have a polarizing

Jonathan Rose, an associate professor of political science at
Queen’s University, said the decision may appeal to some of
Ford’s base because it targets “many people’s favourite
whipping-boy,” the City of Toronto. But he said Canadians
consistently rank the charter as one their most prized
institutions and some may conclude the premier is against it.

Clark Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs (centre) and Caroline
Mulroney, Attorney General of Ontario (right) watch as an
opposition MPP is ejected from the Queens Park Legislative
Chamber as the PC Provincial Government introduce “The Efficient
Local Government Act” at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto , on
Wednesday September 12, 2018.

“I think more reasoned, moderate conservatives might wonder why
the premier is using such a powerful instrument on an issue
that’s … not important in the minds of voters,” he said.

Ford has said Tory legislators will be free to vote as they
wish on the council-cutting bill and a major public service
union urged them to break from party lines and oppose it.

But it’s unlikely any will break ranks on this issue, said
Genevieve Tellier, a political science professor at the
University of Ottawa. The government is still new and
legislators won’t want to jeopardize their futures by publicly
opposing their leader so early on, she said.

She said Ford’s assertion that the courts are interfering with
a democratically elected government goes too far, since
democracy depends on the checks and balances provided by an
independent judiciary.

“An elected official doesn’t have full power to do whatever he
wants, she wants — ere are some rules to follow, those of the
constitution,” she said. “The judge reminded him about that.”

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