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20th of October 2018

Canada



Toronto just discussed postponing the municipal election

Toronto is now little more than five weeks away from a municipal election that will determine who our mayor and city councillors are for the next four years.

Unfortunately for the democratic process, nobody in the city knows what the heck is going on: Not who their candidates are, which voting ward they fall into, or if they'll even be able to vote in advance.

Among the millions of those confused is City Clerk Ulli Watkiss — the person in charge of running this election on October 22.

This is not something to be taken lightly: the person responsible for running fair elections in Toronto is publicly saying she’s not sure she can run a fair election.

— Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) September 13, 2018

"Every hour that goes by, every day that goes by, creates greater uncertainty and raises in me a huge concern over the proper conduct of this election," she said at on Thursday at a special meeting of Toronto City Council. "I have to let council know that."

She revealed that the city has printed two sets of voter cards — one for a 47 ward election and one for 25 wards, but told councillors that "we have hit a tipping point and both election scenarios are becoming virtually impossible for us to carry out."

When asked if postponing the election was an option, Watkiss said that she had retained her own independent legal counsel and that this is something she would be discussing with them.

This is profoundly important. The Clerk would never say this lightly. https://t.co/8qPzLgLGJd

— Gord Perks (@gordperks) September 13, 2018

The city clerk's concerns stem from an overwhelming amount of confusion among citizens and officials alike over Toronto's ward boundaries map (among other things).

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, if you haven't heard, passed a bill on August 14 reducing the number of seats on Toronto City Council from 47 to just 25 — without warning or consultation, in the middle of an election campaign.

Toronto challenged the move in court, arguing that Ford's Better Local Government Act (or Bill 5) violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba agreed, ruling on Monday that the PC government had "undermined an otherwise fair and suitable election process." For a minute there, it looked like Toronto could proceed with its 47-ward election as planned. 

Breaking: #Toronto city clerk says nearing point where no legal vote can be held on Oct. 22 amid confusion over # of wards. "We have hit a tipping point and both scenarios are becoming virtually impossible for us to carry out."

— David Rider (@dmrider) September 13, 2018

Premier Ford was unhappy with the court's decision, however, and announced that he was going to make his 25-ward Toronto happen, whether we like it or not.

He did this by invoking a rare and controversial "notwithstanding clause" to override the judge's ruling — a move that has since been condemned by Amnesty International, among others, and is the first of its kind in provincial history.

Ford's council-slashing bill was reintroduced at Queen's Park on Wednesday and, while it has yet to receive royal ascent, it breezed past its first reading with a vote of 63-17.

So what happens now? Toronto City Council is currently trying to figure that out, both legally and logistically, based on advice from the city solicitor.

What a mess this has become. Just 40 days until the date set for the Toronto municipal election & still no confirmation of 47 or 25 wards. The city's clerk has retained legal counsel incase the date needs to be pushed back to allow for a fair process. #topoli #onpoli #Bill5 https://t.co/eG8xti1NlY

— Alex Harris (@alexstuharris) September 13, 2018

Candidates are confused, voters are confused, and the timing of this back-and-forth between the city and province already means that advanced voting won't be possible on Thanksgiving weekend (sorry, post-secondary students.)

"My intention and my desire is to hold an advance vote, but I need certainty and I need it soon," said the city clerk earlier today, noting that nine days had already been reduced to five in light of the legal battle.

While, as David Rider notes, the city clerk is "legally responsible for conducting an election that complies with provincial legislation," the fact that she has retained her own lawyer suggests that this is a battle she might be willing to wage — or at least consider.

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