Supreme Court of Canada rules Bill 5 is constitutional

Today, the Supreme Court of Canada, in a narrow 5-4 decision, ruled that the government of Ontario’s Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act, 2018, which reduced the number of electoral wards in the City of Toronto from 47 to 25 mid-election in 2018, is constitutional, thereby dismissing the City’s appeal.

The City Solicitor and her staff are reviewing the Court’s decision, which clarified the scope of s. 2(b) of the Charter protections in the context of municipal electoral campaigns, as well as the use of unwritten constitutional principles.

May 1, 2018 was nomination day for qualified candidates seeking election to Toronto City Council and its 47-ward structure in the municipal election of October 22, 2018. On July 30, 2018, however, the government of Ontario introduced the Better Local Government Act, 2018. Bill 5 became law on August 14, which reduced the boundaries in City of Toronto electoral wards from 47 to 25, significantly disrupting the municipal election, midstream, in Canada’s largest city.

The legislation was introduced “without notice to the City, candidates or electors,” the City stated in its factum to the Court on the constitutionality of the provincial legislation. “It was directed solely at Toronto and no other municipality. The result was widespread disruption of the Election and confusion among candidates and voters alike.”

The City’s appeal raised questions “about the Charter’s guarantee of freedom of expression, the scope of unwritten constitutional principles and whether municipal electors are entitled to effective representation.” The City submitted “that a truly democratic election — at a minimum, and among other things — is free from significant mid-election interference and provides electors with the right to effective representation.”

The City also submitted “that these basic democratic norms were trampled on by the government of Ontario when, without notice, it radically changed the City’s ward structure in the middle of an election.”

The City of Toronto thanks the Court for its thoughtful consideration and deliberation of these important constitutional issues.

City of Toronto’s Memorandum of Argument to the Court: 9739-Memorandum-of-Argument-of-the-Applicants.pdf (toronto.ca).

Supreme Court of Canada Decision: Toronto (City) v. Ontario (Attorney General) - SCC Cases (scc-csc.ca).

Supreme Court of Canada Case in Brief: Supreme Court of Canada - 38921 (scc-csc.ca).

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