In the race

How Ontario legislation passes

The Ontario Premier, in a Friday morning news conference, declared an intention to introduce legislation that would, if passed, nearly cut in half the number of seats on Toronto city council, and cancel regional chair elections in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka; all within 90 days of the 2018 municipal election on October 22, 2018.

Such legislation would open the Ontario Municipal Act; the Ontario Municipal Elections Act; and the City of Toronto Act, and perhaps other acts as well. In other words, it is not a small undertaking.

The earliest that such an act can be introduced to the Legislature (“First Reading”) is Monday July 30. Presuming the near-certainty that one opposition party tables a “reasoned amendment,” the Speaker will not allow debate on the bill to start the day it is introduced. As well, the government will almost certainly table a “time allocation bill” to truncate the debate time for the bill. However, a time allocation bill is itself debatable, so it will take time to pass the time allocation bill before its provisions can shorten whatever bill that affects the municipal elections.

This likely means that Second Reading of the bill in the Legislature will continue through the second week of August. The government has not said whether the bill will be referred to a Legislative standing committee for consideration, as bills should be. If so, it will require at least a day in committee, with perhaps another day for proposed amendments to be submitted. Then the committee considering the bill must meet for “clause-by-clause” consideration of the various amendments submitted. Only after this may the bill, perhaps amended, go back to the Legislature for “Third Reading.” Third Reading normally takes a day or two of debate. The vote after Third Reading passes the bill, which must then be subsequently “proclaimed” on behalf of the Queen by the Ontario Lieutenant Governor.

That takes the process likely to late in the third week of August, at the earliest, and depends on:

  • Absolutely nothing unplanned happening during debate;
  • No substantive or procedural delays during debate;
  • No court proceedings interrupting or delaying the process of consideration of the bill.

It would not be prudent to assume passage, without opposition or delay, on a debate that opens three or more such substantive provincial acts. In short, stuff happens.

Legal challenge

It is impossible to know if anything in a bill that has not yet been written (or introduced) can be challenged in court. Given the absence of any advance consultation; the fact that no municipality asked the Province to affect the 2018 municipal elections; and the inexperience of the new government, the odds of all or part of the proposed (and as yet unseen) act being flawless and sailing through the legislative process may not be strong.

A legal challenge that delays the process of passage of the act, in effect, would neuter the act in the 2018 elections.

In short, unless something definitive successfully happens in sufficient time to cancel the elections for the four regional chairs, they are on. Similarly, unless something definitive is passed in time to change the configuration of Toronto City Council, it too will proceed to the 2018 elections with 47 seats, as is the case now.

Worrying precedent

The incoming government never mentioned interfering with Ontario municipal elections in its 2018 election campaign. The proposed changes to the structure of Toronto City Council and to the election of regional chairs in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka were never mentioned in the government’s Speech from the Throne (i.e. where it sets its agenda for the session of the current Parliament).

Peel Region is an economic and population entity larger than the entire Province of Manitoba! Having one, single elected representative of all its 1.4 million people – the Regional Chair – is actually a good idea. The Province ought to be encouraging this check-and-balance of having an elected representative to work with the regional staff, and not trying to revert to having Peel Regional Council appoint the Chair.

The election campaign remains on! It is a campaign I intend to win, and a platform from which to advocate for our three cities; their businesses; and their residents. There are important issues to discuss this summer and autumn, and I intend to continue the consultation and the conversation.

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