On March 16, FCM intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada to defend local democracy in the City of Toronto’s appeal against Bill 5, which completely re-wrote municipal electoral boundaries during an ongoing election.
Our lead counsel, Stéphane Émard-Chabot, made submissions to the Court about the deep, historical roots of municipal democracy in Canada—a legacy that predates Confederation. The greatest challenge in this case is that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms addresses democratic rights, but only speaks to provincial and federal elections, leaving municipal elections on unequal footing with other levels of government.
FCM called on the Court to recall the history of municipal governance in Canada, facts that the framers of the Constitution would have had in mind as they designed the division of powers. Justice Brown clearly took note of this argument, mentioning in a question that municipal democracy reaches back to the Magna Carta.
The hearing reflected the active conversations happening across the country about the modern role of local governments in our national architecture, with leading rights advocates from across the country calling on the Supreme Court to protect free and fair elections at the local level.
The Supreme Court will have to wrestle with how to weigh in on Ontario’s unjustified interference in Toronto’s municipal election, despite the limits in our Constitution when it comes to safeguarding municipal elections. We don’t expect a final decision until autumn of 2021.
FCM’s intervention was made possible by the Legal Defense Fund, which allows us to intervene on behalf of municipalities like yours in precedent-setting, federal appellate cases that can affect municipalities across Canada.