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LETTER: Ross Romano should be 'fighting' Ford's use of the notwithstanding clause

Letter writer says this shouldn't be a partisan issue
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SooToday received the following 'open letter'  from former Saultite C.J. Morton to MPP Ross Romano regarding his stance on Premier Doug Ford's use of the 'notwithstanding clause' to pass legislation aimed at reducing the size of Toronto's city council:

Dear Mr. Romano,

Your website has on its front page a picture of you smiling, arms crossed, with big, bold text declaring “Fighting for the People of Sault Ste. Marie.”A red line pops into view beneath the words “Sault Ste. Marie,” as if to underscore how serious you are about this. Indeed, you’ve touted your willingness to stand up for your riding time and time again – in June, you are quoted as saying “You have an advocate. I fight for a living. It's what I do. I will continue to do it. I will leave no stone unturned. I will use what God gave me, which is a strong voice, to fight for you. I've got a strong heart. I will fight for you with that.” It is with the hope that these words are sincere, and that you will indeed stand for us, and fight for us, that I write this letter.

I was utterly blindsided when, after not mentioning it during the campaign at all, Doug Ford announced his intention to cut the Toronto City Council from 47 members to 25. What could the purpose of this be? To make this announcement with the timing he did, in a way that has thrown the city’s municipal elections into disarray, smacks of an ulterior motive. His claims of saving taxpayer money are suspect – as pointed out in an editorial by Edward Keenan in the Toronto Star, Conservative claims that London, England has a much smaller municipal government with fewer elected officials per capita are blatantly false, and similar claims regarding Los Angeles were just as easily debunked.

This prompted me to do some independent research. According to the Statistics Canada website’s census data, in 2016 Toronto had a population of 2,731,571. Ottawa had a population of 934,243. Hamilton’s population was 536,917, with London sitting at 383,822. Our own hometown of Sault Ste. Marie had a population of 73,368.

Ottawa’s city council has 24 members – 23 councillors plus the mayor. That works out to just over 40,000 citizens per councillor. Hamilton has 15 city councillors, with just under 36,000 people for each. In London, there is a 14 member city council, meaning roughly 27,500 residents per representative. Our own city council in Sault Ste. Marie has, as you know well, 12 councillors, giving us a ratio of one councillor to every 6114 Saultites.

How, then, is it considered reasonable that Premier Ford wants to slash representation to a level of one city councillor per 110,000 Torontonians? It is not prudent, it is not fiscally conservative, and it is not good governing, especially considering how the timing has thrown such a monkey wrench into the upcoming elections. From all  appearances, this appears to be the Premier settling a grudge with the city and its council. This is not a government that is acting in the best interests of its people; this move benefits one man and one alone, Doug Ford.

I was heartened when I read that Justice Edward Belobaba had declared Bill 5 unconstitutional. Ford’s actions are not in the public interest, and this is the judiciary doing its intended purpose – hearing arguments and deciding cases based on the law. The rule of law is one of the fundamental cornerstones of democracy. As a lawyer by trade, I’m sure you appreciate the importance of this. Why, then, have you voted in favour of the revised bill using the “notwithstanding clause” to contravene the rule of law and push through legislation that has already been deemed unconstitutional?

The “notwithstanding” clause has never been used before in Ontario. This is unprecedented, and setting aside that the legislation he is invoking this nuclear option over is so petty, it is an affront to democracy. Ford has signalled his willingness to use this clause again, and behaves like a dictator. He has no regard for the wishes of the opposition parties, no regard for an independent judiciary, and no respect for any checks on his power. Will you continue to stand for this?

This is not an issue of Conservative versus Liberal versus New Democrats versus Greens. This move has been criticized by both Toronto mayor and former PC leader John Tory as well as former Conservative Premier Bill Davis in addition to all three opposition parties. What we have here is an issue of political legitimacy.

When Ford visited our city in June, after the Trump government’s tariffs on steel and aluminum were announced, he gave one of the single most pathetic non-answers to a question I’ve ever read. He refused to criticize his idol (and fellow threat to democracy) Donald Trump at all. For a town as dependent on its steel industry as Sault Ste. Marie, how was this acceptable? It was clear then, and is clear now, that Ford had no plan. This was politics as usual, with him saying whatever he felt would get him elected. In what I consider an indictment of the voting population of Ontario, his approach of providing zero substance worked. He proved once that voters will not penalize him for his lack of a coherent platform or consistent policy, and seems eager to test this again.

That brings us to where we are today. Our Premier feels his half-baked policy decisions do not require the consultation of the public, that his word is more valid than our country’s Constitution, and that he can degrade and question the legitimacy of our justice system. No, the fact that Justice Belobaba was appointed rather than elected does not make him illegitimate, and to suggest such is downright shameful. Ford even claims that “the people are with him” even as protestors are bodily dragged out of the legislature and opposition politicians are silenced. In fact, the majority of the people of Ontario are not with our Premier. The Conservatives won just 40.5 per cent of the vote, and have a majority government solely due to the broken and antiquated first past the post system.

The completely absurd nature of Ford’s Efficient Local Government Act aside, it is the process he is using to push this law through that I object to, and that has motivated me to write this letter. Will you stand by as Ford tramples on the constitutional rights of Ontarians? How is voting in favour of this legislation “fighting for the people of Sault Ste. Marie?” I would wager most Saultites care far more that the Premier feels the very Constitution is beneath him than they do about the size of Toronto’s city council. This, not Justice Belobaba’s ruling, is textbook overreach.

It’s time to take a stand, Mr. Romano, and vote against this legislation if you value the rights of your constituents – and of voters all throughout Ontario – over toeing the party line. If you can’t speak up now, when the validity of the Constitution itself has been called into question, it’s time to amend your website. Do away with your façade as a fighter, and perhaps consider a new image: as a coward unwilling to stand up to Premier Ford.


EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the sender.

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