Ontario Premier Vows to Override Judge to Shrink Toronto Council

(Bloomberg) -- The newly elected leader of Canada’s most-populous province is taking an unprecedented step to overrule a judge.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters Monday he intends to use a constitutional override to reject a provincial court decision that blocked him from shrinking the size of Toronto’s city council.

“I was elected, the judge was appointed,” Ford said. The Ontario legislature will be recalled this week and the government will invoke Section 33 of the federal Charter of Rights, known as the notwithstanding clause, to re-introduce legislation that reduces Toronto’s municipal government to 25 councilors, from the current 47.

Canada’s biggest city and financial hub holds a municipal election next month. The timing of the campaign was one of the reasons cited by the Ontario Superior Court earlier Monday in its rejection of Ford’s legislation. “You can’t change the rules in the middle of an election,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a Twitter message praising the ruling.

The premier, brother of the late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, ran unsuccessfully for the municipal helm against Tory before entering provincial politics. His Progressive Conservatives rode a populist message to victory in June, ending 15 years of Liberal rule in Ontario.

“We want a government that’s going to be more efficient, and make decisions” he said of his government’s bid to reduce the size of city council, citing Toronto’s lack of progress on a housing crunch.

Use of the notwithstanding clause is rare in Canada. Until Monday, Ontario had never invoked Section 33. The French-speaking province of Quebec has used it most frequently, and Saskatchewan invoked it to protect back-to-work legislation. Alberta considered using it, but in the end opted against the controversial measure.

Ford, however, appears willing to break with convention as needed. “We’re prepared to use Section 33 again in the future -- we’re taking a stand,” he said.

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