Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc said the city is going to explore every legal option available to fight Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause (Declan Keogh/Ryersonian)

City councillors voted 26-10 to take Premier Doug Ford’s controversial bill to cut Toronto’s wards back to court, during an emergency meeting on Sept. 13.

The three-part motion tabled by Coun. Joe Mihevc also requests the federal government to “exercise the power of disallowance,” which passed 29-7, should any challenges in court fail. The power of disallowance is an antiquated clause in the constitution that hasn’t been used since the Second World War.

The move by council is just one more in a seemingly non-stop string of confusion and controversies ahead of Toronto’s Oct. 22 municipal election. It began with Ford’s Bill 5, which sought to cut the number of wards from 47 to 25.

On Monday, the legislation was ruled unconstitutional by Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba. Then on Wednesday, Ford invoked, through Bill 31, the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for the first time in Ontario’s history to override Belobaba’s decision.

All of this has left Torontonians — as well as campaigning politicians and city officials — in the lurch.

Mihevc told the Ryersonian the city is going to explore every legal option available. “We recognize that they have a pretty damn big stick with that notwithstanding clause…that’s like having three-and-a-half aces in your hand,” he said.

“We will do whatever we can to throw mud in your legal spokes — we’re going to make you pay legally for this contravention of our rights,” said Mihevc.

The city can’t take on Ford alone, Mihevc said, and he trusts the federal government will “do the right thing” and step in.

“This is about a silly man wanting cheap revenge on former colleagues,” he added.

Unconventional times — unconventional measures

This followed Toronto city clerk Ulli Watkiss’ comments to council that the election is “definitely reaching a tipping point.” Watkiss, who is legally obliged to provide a fair election, has sought legal council on the best way to proceed with the unfolding drama.

Watkiss seems to be in a race against time, with the planned date for the election looming ahead. Every day that passes, without a conclusive direction for the city, is another not spent on the various bureaucratic processes that go into an election.

One of the main problems, Watkiss said, was advanced polling. It takes time to set up, and knowing which ward voters are in and their candidates, needs to be accurate. “It’s simply not possible,” said Watkiss, “I need certainty and I need it soon.”

Ward 27 Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam told the Ryersonian that under these extraordinary times, measures — like requesting the federal government to intervene — are necessary.

“This is not, in any way, a conventional time in the city,” she said.

If Ford had tried to sit down with the city to figure things out, rather than legislate it, Wong-Tam said a solution could have likely been reached.

“The city council deems that the citizens’ charter rights to rule supreme and should never, never be trampled for any type of legislative convenience.”

With files from Tiffany Lam

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