Trampling on our rights harms our environment, too

The last 6 weeks have been a chaotic time in Toronto politics.

In late July, Doug Ford’s Provincial government ignored our Environmental Bill of Rights when they scrapped Ontario’s climate change action plan without consultation and then--to everyone’s surprise--took direct aim at Toronto’s active municipal election by passing a bill to cut the number of Councillors in Toronto in half, from 47 to 25.

Both of these decisions could harm the ability of Torontonians to build a greener city for all and that's why the Toronto Environmental Alliance is standing up for Toronto.

On Monday of this week, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the legislation was unconstitutional, ordering that Toronto’s election proceed with the full 47 wards. The judge ruled that the timing of the bill--introduced three months after the election had already started--violated the right of candidates and voters to free speech during an election.

In his statement, the judge said: "Passing a law that changes the city's electoral districts in the middle of its election undermines the overall fairness of the election and is antithetical to the core principles of our democracy."

Hours after this ruling, Doug Ford announced his intention to convene the legislature and charge ahead with the same bill, but this time including a provision called the “notwithstanding clause.” This clause has never been used in Ontario and permits a law to be enacted despite the fact that it violates the constitution. (No wonder protesters at City Hall called it “notwiththinking”!)

Despite the Ontario government’s unprecedented use of the notwithstanding clause, this debate is far from over. Protests and rallies have tapped into the public’s growing anger and politicians at all levels of government are taking a stand. In the Ontario legislature, the NDP have led fierce opposition to the bill, including NDP Leader Andrea Horwath getting kicked out of the Legislature. Yesterday, all of Toronto’s 25 federal MPs came together to voice their opposition and Toronto City Council has decided to challenge this new bill in court.

As an environmental watchdog and advocacy organization, we support all of these efforts to restore Toronto’s electoral process because it’s the right thing to do.

When the bill was introduced, TEA’s Executive Director Franz Hartmann argued persuasively why this is an important issue for TEA:

“The Ontario Government’s move will also undermine the ability of Torontonians to be actively involved in City Hall, including advocating for better environmental actions. A slashed City Council means decisions at City Hall will now increasingly be made by a smaller circle of politicians who are less accountable and available to their constituents, and who increasingly rely on unelected staff to manage a much larger workload. And this will undermine Torontonians wanting to build a greener city for all.”

TEA remains committed to our mission of championing a green city for all, and for all the reasons outlined above, we oppose this attack on Toronto’s democracy.

We want this municipal election to be about Councillor and Mayoral candidates’ visions for how to tackle the pressing environmental issues facing our city. We want voters to know: will they fully implement the city’s climate change plan, TransformTO? Will they do more to protect Toronto from extreme weather like flooding? Will they expand recycling and composting to all businesses and high-rise buildings to help get us on the path to being a zero waste city?   

Instead of pressing municipal candidates and their campaigns to address these important questions, we are forced to wait to find out what Toronto’s election will look like, and even when it will happen.  

At a time when there are so many unknowns, it’s even more important for all Torontonians to prepare themselves to get involved in this election. Channel your energy into where you can make a difference. No matter how many Councillors are on the ballot, we still need to elect a Council and Mayor that will move forward on our issues.

Here at TEA, we continue to work with our allies to oppose this unconstitutional move by the Ontario Government. We need to protect the systems and policies that TEA and so many others have worked hard to put in place to protect the environment. At the same time, we continue to prepare our municipal election strategy, because we also need to elect environmental champions who will build a greener city for all.


Heather Marshall is the Campaigns Director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance