A Test of Local Democracy's Resilience

The Ontario Government was bound and determined to have its way in forcing a 25-ward system on the City of Toronto, regardless of how disruptive its actions have been on the City’s election process.

This has come at great cost to the City and also to the many new candidates for municipal office whose hopes were dashed with this abuse of provincial powers. For a brief moment, the courts tried to protect our local democracy under Charter Rights, but in the end, the courts upheld provincial authority, which the Premier was prepared to impose legislatively in any case through the unprecedented use of the notwithstanding clause.

It’s now time to not just protect but reinforce our local democracy. It should not be defined strictly in terms of electoral politics every four years, as the Premier contends. It is time that advocates for stronger local voices in municipal decision-making push for neighbourhood or community councils, perhaps even with locally elected residents as exist in other jurisdictions.

This would be a hopeful expression of a revitalized local democracy rooted in community and holding City Council and its 25 Councillors accountable. Any new local democratic structures must reflect the diversity of local communities, including low-income, marginalized and racialized residents.

The resilience of our local democracy is being tested by the use of unchecked provincial power. The challenge is to reframe how we re-imagine democratic practice every day, not just in election cycles.

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