What Ontario premier,Doug Ford, wants to do is quite legal/constitutional but the way he chose to do it and the timing of his action, plus personal animus towards the Toronto municipal council ( the various run-ins that he and his brother ( the former mayor Rob), was the problem.
He can reduce the size of the Council from 47 to 25 but he acted rashly. There is an election campaign going on. Candidates are already contesting the 47 seats but he ploughed ahead and the court slapped him down. Judge Belobaba ruled that " passing a law that changes the city's electoral districts in the middle of its election and undermines the overall fairness of the election is antithetical to the core principles of our democracy". Ford went " bananas" and personally attacked the judge ( erroneously), as an appointee of a previous provincial premier, Dalton McGuinty. This is a Superior court judge and these are appointed by the Federal government, but Ford's ignorance did not stop him from repeating it again and again and he then threatened to use the " the notwithstanding clause" to override the court's decision.
Sec. 33 of the Constitution Act 1982, allows provinces to do this, but it was not meant to be used to settle personal vendettas and this is what Ford is doing. This clause has been used rarely since its inclusion in the Constitution. It was a compromise hammered out by the Federal Justice minister Jean Chretien and the Attorney Generals of Ontario (McMurty) and Saskatchewan ( Romanov).
The Constitutional meeting to patriate the Canadian Constitution from Britain was in trouble as the pro- separatist premier of Quebec, Rene Levesque put up many road blocks ( as he said prior to the talks, he was not there to " renew Canada), and the Conservative premiers of NL, Manitoba, Alberta, . PEI and Nova Scotia and the Socred. premier of BC, who opposed individual rights and the NDP premier of Sask. who wanted rights for women, joined forces, ( the so-called Gang of 8). Only Ontario and New Brunswick ( Progressive Conservatives), stood with the Feds.
Many deals and counter deals were proposed and all seemed lost. Then, the meeting in the kitchen, over coffee made the breakthrough compromise, that satisfied all but Levesque. He left in a huff and cried foul ( he was angry because he thought he had a deal with the 7, but they got a better deal. Fuming he came back to Quebec and complained of betrayal and the " Night of the Knives". He was out-pokered). He vowed to use the notwithstanding clause against all future legislation and indeed was the first to use it against the ruling of the Supreme Court over sections of Law 101. He "protected" all Quebec laws by including this clause in all its laws. He acted out of pique . Liberal premier, Robert Bourassa also used it and so did the government of Sask. and Yukon., but all in all its use was rare.
When used, it would last for a maximum of 5 years. It can be reduced, or dropped after this or it had to be renewed for another 5 years. It has never been used in Ontario until now.
When Doug Ford recalled the legislature to pass it, an uproar followed and all NDP members ( who showed their opposition by making noise and thumping their desks were named and escorted out of the chamber by the Sergeant-of Arms . The law will be passed but already the Toronto council and its mayor have challenged in the courts. The show is not over.
The attack on the Courts by Ford has met with criticism from all sides ( except federal Conservative leader Scheer. ). It is not the use of the power but the way it was done. As stated above, the municipalities are " creatures" of the provinces. They give them life and they can take it away or modify them but there is accountability , legal and political. The legal we have seen; the political is yet to come.
What people are concerned about is the threat from Ford to use over and over again. He argues that he was elected( he was not elected Premier. He becomes that as a result of being leader of the majority party) and so can do what he wants and that judges are merely appointed. Simplistic and dangerous. Our system of government is a Constitutional democracy, based upon the Rule of Law and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. There are checks on political as well as legal powers. The checks on political power is the limited term of office and the voters and the powers granted to the Courts by the Constitution. The Courts are limited by the Constitution and by the legislature. No one has absolute power in our system of government. That does not mean that politicians will not bluster and rant and rave and threaten, especially when ignorance abounds.