Toronto lawyer and wannabe municipal politician Rocco Achampong says he’s a big fan of Doug Ford. But he is dead set against the new Ontario premier’s plan to cut the number of city councillors in Toronto in half on the eve of a municipal election.
On Monday, Achampong filed a court action to try and derail Ford’s plan.
"I love Doug Ford — and I loved his brother Rob, too,” says Achampong, a former mayoral candidate who is now running for one of 47 councillor seats in the October election, which officially began on May 1.
Under Bill 5, which the new Conservative government tabled Monday at Queen’s Park, that number of councillors would be reduced to 25. The controversial bill has been met with widespread opposition and anger.
Within minutes of it being tabled, however, Achampong filed a notice of application with Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice, asking the court to review the bill and rule on its legality.
According to his application, which was issued yesterday by the court — listing Ford, Ontario’s attorney general and Toronto Mayor John Tory as respondents — Achampong is seeking orders for the “interim preservation of the status quo rules and regulations” governing the 2018 election and to suspend the coming into force of Bill 5 until his application can be heard.
He gives several legal grounds for his application, notably the bill’s non-compliance with the rules and regulations governing candidacies according to both provincial and municipal laws, including the Toronto Act (2206), the Municipal Act (2001) and the Municipal Elections Act (1996).
“The controlling law, rules and regulations that have been operative since the start of the election cycle have now been thrust into a state of ambiguity and uncertainty,” reads the application.
“Late changes in election rules run the risk of unfairness or, at the very least, the perception of unfairness and, as such, has the effect of diminishing public confidence in the city’s democratic process.”
A former student president of the University of Toronto who has been in private practice in downtown Toronto since 2010 — the year he finished sixth in the city’s mayoral race, well behind winner Rob Ford — Achampong said he is not necessarily opposed to the suggested changes contained in Bill 5 but rather the ham-handed and strong-armed way they were announced.
“This is government by fiat,” says Achampong. “This is not a publicity stunt. These are live issues. I’m standing up for the people of Toronto. I’m a lone-man army.”
Achampong adds that “a few lawyers” have called to offer him moral support and legal opinions on how to proceed.
Though he isn’t one of them, Toronto criminal lawyer David Butt says he’s happy someone has mounted a legal challenge to Bill 5.
“A constitution does nothing if it doesn’t ensure and protect our shared sense of democracy,” says Butt, who notably served as counsel to the Bellamy Inquiry that examined municipal governance and procurement in Toronto from 2002 to 2005.
He penned an editorial in The Globe & Mail on Monday in which he urged Toronto to take the province to court over Bill 5.
Though Butt doesn’t dispute the clearly defined constitutional powers of provinces over municipal governments in their jurisdictions, he says the Ford bill flies in the face of traditional practices and electoral conventions that have become unwritten components of the Canadian Constitution and the notion of it being “a living tree,” which jurisprudence has “solidly endorsed” over many decades.
“Those conventions come into play when you make changes to critical infrastructures of democracy like elections or the number of representatives who get elected,” says Butt. “It takes meaningful consultation of those constituents who are affected. You can’t significantly truncate a municipal government like that. You need a clear and specific mandate to do it.”