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Doug Ford Becomes 1st Ontario Premier To Invoke Notwithstanding Clause

NDP MPPs were removed from the legislature after refusing to stop protesting.

A new bill to slash the size of Toronto's city council passed its first reading in Ontario's legislature Wednesday, after a raucous day of disruptions.

Most NDP MPPs were escorted out of the legislature after shouting and banging on their desks to stop Progressive Conservative minister Steve Clark from reading the bill.

On her way out, Scarborough Southwest's representative Doly Begum pointed right at Premier Doug Ford and told him, "You should be ashamed of yourself."

The new bill, renamed the Efficient Local Government Act, invokes Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for the first time in Ontario's history. The section is known as the notwithstanding clause, and lets Parliament and provincial legislatures pass laws overriding specific charter rights for a five-year period.

A judge struck down a previous version of the law on Monday, saying that reducing the number of seats on council in the middle of a municipal election violates the freedom of expression rights of municipal candidates and voters.

"The candidates' efforts to convey their political message about the issues in their particular ward were severely frustrated and disrupted. Some candidates persevered; others dropped out of the race entirely," Justice Edward Belobaba wrote in his decision.

The new, revised bill lets candidates file nomination papers until two days after it receives Royal Assent. PCs still have to pass the law through a second and third reading before that will happen.

Toronto's election is scheduled for Oct. 22, but the court challenge and the renewed legislation create uncertainty around the timing.

Earlier on Wednesday, a number of protesters were removed from the gallery for disrupting a question period in which the issue dominated.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford, a former city councillor, is simply acting on a "petty vendetta" against his old colleagues in Toronto.

Ford argued he is upholding democracy because his government was elected by Ontario voters.

He blasted the court's decision Monday, saying Ontarians should be concerned that a judge was trying to disrupt his agenda.

"The people of Ontario are the judge and jury," Ford said at the time.

While Tories have said they were elected to shrink the size of government, the party did not mention during the spring campaign any plan to slash the size of Toronto city council. They have not introduced bills to reduce the size of any other municipal government in Ontario.

With files from Ryan Maloney

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