Canada

Legislature sitting all night to speed passage of controversial Toronto council bill

Watkiss, who has taken the unusual step of retaining her own outside legal counsel, said in court filings Friday printers would need to work 14 hours a day for seven days to prepare the 2.6 million ballots.

“The current schedule does not provide any room for slippage for unanticipated issues or the correction of errors,” she said in her submission to court.

Ballots cannot yet be printed because it remains uncertain whether there will be 47 council wards or 25.

Even though the Progressive Conservatives never once mentioned slashing the size of Toronto council during the spring election campaign, MPPs have fallen in line behind Ford, who believes the move will end “dysfunction” and “gridlock” at city hall.

“I’m blessed to have some great political moments — this was one of them on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Queen’s Park,” tweeted Energy Minister Greg Rickford, above a photograph of Ford and a dozen cabinet members signing the order-in-council for the midnight sitting.

Rickford’s riding of Kenora-Rainy River is 1,800 km from Toronto.

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, who could win a stay of Belobaba’s ruling on Tuesday at the Court of Appeal, is under pressure from the legal community to stop Ford from using the notwithstanding clause for the first time in Ontario history.

“We … are writing this open letter to you because your office is assigned to champion and safeguard the fundamental principles of the rule of law and due process in Ontario, and the rights of the people,” said a letter Sunday to Mulroney, signed by 400 lawyers.

“We are gravely concerned about Premier Doug Ford’s proposed use of the notwithstanding clause to pass (the) bill … and are writing this letter to urge you not to support this unprecedented act,” the missive said.

Will Hutcheson, a Toronto family lawyer who authored the group letter, said “its trivial use in this case now threatens the charter itself.”

“There are people here from all different walks of life and also from all points on the political spectrum. This is an issue that very much crosses party lines,” said Hutcheson.

“As a citizen and a lawyer I felt that this was one of those moments where I had to draw a line in the sand and stand up for our rights. Clearly there are hundreds of other lawyers who feel the same.”

The three key architects of the notwithstanding clause, former justice ministers Jean Chrétien, Roy McMurtry and Roy Romanow, have implored Ford not to use it.

Former Tory premier Bill Davis, former NDP premier Bob Rae, and former Liberal premier David Peterson have also criticized its use.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who has pointed out the province lost more than 80,000 jobs in August, expressed concern that MPPs would be spending time debating the size of Toronto council instead of more urgent matters.

Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers said Ford, who was defeated in the 2014 Toronto mayoral race by John Tory, needs “to step up to the plate, act like the leader of Ontario and not the mayor of Toronto.”

“Stop trampling on local democracy, and please come up and do what your job is supposed to do,” Des Rosiers (Ottawa-Vanier) chided the premier.

Aside from the legal machinations, the Tories are also awaiting a ruling from Speaker Ted Arnott on whether Bill 31 is out of order because it is virtually identical to Bill 5.

It’s against the rules to introduce duplicate legislation in the same session.

The government argues that because Bill 31 includes the notwithstanding clause, it is significantly different from Bill 5.

If the Tories win a stay at the Court of Appeal, that would neutralize Belobaba’s decision and render Bill 31 unnecessary, nullifying the need for the notwithstanding clause.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the “manufactured crisis” is all so Ford can settle his “personal political vendetta” against his foes at city hall.

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