Doug Ford, Ontario’s Premier, Takes On Canada’s Judiciary

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Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, faced stormy protests at the legislature in Toronto on Wednesday.CreditCreditChris Young/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

By Ian Austen

OTTAWA — A Canadian court has spoken. But Doug Ford, Ontario’s premier, says he knows better.

Mr. Ford, a combative right-wing politician who has often been compared to President Trump, wants to cut the Toronto City Council in half, saying the move would reduce costs and bureaucracy. Ontario’s Superior Court, a trial-level court, on Monday declared the effort unconstitutional.

Mr. Ford fired back on Wednesday by calling an emergency session of the Ontario legislature to invoke a rarely used federal law that allows provinces and the federal government to override, through new legislation, judicial decisions and parts of Canada’s constitution.

“This is about preserving the will of the people, this is about preserving democracy,” Mr. Ford told lawmakers.

His political opponents, as well as some political allies in his Progressive Conservative party, say he has gone too far.

Mr. Ford’s suggestion that he “won’t by shy” about taking the step again when courts rule against his decisions in the future only added to their concern.

“The backbone and the enormous strength of Canada is the independence and magnificence of our judiciary,” said Brian Mulroney, a former Progressive Conservative prime minister, at a public event in Ottawa on Tuesday, after Mr. Ford had announced his intent to override the court’s decision.

Mr. Mulroney declined to comment directly about Mr. Ford’s plan; his daughter, Caroline, is Mr. Ford’s attorney general. But he spoke forcefully against the use of the override measure by any government under any circumstance.

“A major thrust of our citizenship is the affirmation of the rule of law through our judiciary,” he said.

Mr. Ford, elected in June, campaigned on a populist, right-wing agenda. He promised to challenge the country’s liberal policies from Ontario, the country’s most populous province and an economic engine.

He shares Mr. Trump’s enthusiasm for disruption. Immediately after coming to office, Mr. Ford moved to cancel Ontario’s carbon tax, repeal a new sex education curriculum for schools and stop the opening of safe drug injection sites.

His decision to cut the Toronto City Council from 47 seats to 25, however, was not part of his campaign platform and seemed to come out of the blue. Critics say it was an affront to the democratic process because the decision to expand the council was made after a long period of debate, a vote by the council and two unsuccessful legal challenges.

The override measure that Mr. Ford invoked was originally introduced to win the support of premiers from western Canada for Canada’s 1982 constitution, giving them assurance that courts would not develop excessive power.

Legal experts have assumed that it would be turned to only after a Supreme Court decision, not a ruling by a trial court like the Ontario Superior Court.

“There’s quite a lot at stake,” said Yasmin Dawood, a professor specializing in constitutional law at the University of Toronto. “I find it alarming that the premier is saying that he might use it again.”

Andrea Horwath, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, called Mr. Ford’s use of the override an attack on constitutional rights to achieve a political end.

“Doug Ford is literally suspending the Charter of Rights of Ontario people in order to plow ahead with his revenge plot against his political enemies at Toronto city hall,” she said.

William Davis, a former Ontario premier who helped created the override and who is also a member of Mr. Ford’s party, told T.V. Ontario that the possibility of the override being “used regularly to assert the dominance of any government or elected politician over the rule of law or the legitimate jurisdiction of our courts of law was never anticipated or agreed to.”

On Wednesday, the emergency session of the Ontario legislature became a raucous affair. In the morning spectators drowned out Mr. Ford first by coughing and then shouting. That led to the public gallery being cleared.

In the afternoon he formally introduced the bill to cut the City Council. Members of the opposition New Democratic Party brought the legislature to a standstill by pounding on their desks. Most of them were ejected by the speaker.

Mr. Ford himself sat on Toronto’s City Council for one term during the tumultuous time when his brother, Rob, who admitted to using crack cocaine and going on drinking binges, was mayor.

Mr. Ford was known as his brother’s enforcer, publicly sparring with protesters and fellow councilors. He replaced his brother on the re-election ballot, after Rob Ford was diagnosed with cancer that proved fatal, but lost to the current mayor, John Tory.

Toronto is set to vote on a new City Council on Oct. 22. But the controversy over its composition began in July, when Mr. Ford first announced that he wanted to cut the number of members. Since then, there has been confusion among candidates and voters as well as headaches for election officials.

It is expected that it will take about two weeks for the new legislation introduced on Wednesday to become law.

The slimmed-down council is unlikely to make a significant difference to Toronto’s $11.1 billion annual budget, experts say.

Even as he invoked the override measure, Mr. Ford is also appealing this week’s ruling through the court system.

One of the rare occasions that the override measure has been used came after the Supreme Court ruled in 1988 against a Quebec law allowing only French on signs.

Quebec eventually changed that legislation, eliminating the need for the override.

Follow Ian Austen on Twitter: @ianrausten

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