NDP kicked out of Ontario legislature as bill to cut Toronto council reintroduced

New Democrat MPPs were kicked out of the Ontario legislature one by one Wednesday afternoon as they loudly protested the reintroduction of a bill halving the size of Toronto city council and refused to come to order.

NDP MPPs delayed introduction of Efficient Local Government Act by banging desks and yelling 'no'

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was ejected from the Ontario Legislative Chamber as the PC government introduced The Efficient Local Government Act. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

New Democrat MPPs were kicked out of the Ontario legislature one by one Wednesday afternoon as they loudly protested the reintroduction of a bill halving the size of Toronto city council and refused to come to order.

Members of the Official Opposition banged their desks and yelled "No!" as the Doug Ford government was set to reintroduce legislation that has thrown the civic election into chaos.

The Speaker tried calling the legislature to order, but as the MPPs continued their protest, he issued warnings that they would be booted from the House. He followed through, and began to name each protesting MPP one by one, then asked the Sergeant-at-Arms to escort them out.

NDP MPPs banged on their desks and were escorted out one by one at the Ontario legislature Wednesday afternoon as they tried to delay the reintroduction of the notwithstanding clause bill to cut the size of Toronto city council. 2:18

The new legislation, called the "Efficient Local Government Act," was introduced about 20 minutes behind schedule as a result.

Outside the legislature, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her party will do "everything that we possibly can" to slow down the Ford government's agenda.

"What we did today is represent all of those people who are frustrated, who are upset with the actions of this Ford government in the choice they have made to invoke the notwithstanding clause and trample on people's Charter rights," Horwath told reporters after the protest.

The judiciary has a critical role to play in a democracy. So does the media. And so do the voices of everyday people.- Andrea Horwath, NDP leader

In a news release issued later Wednesday, Horwath said she will file for a special amendment to stall the bill's progress through the legislature.

"The judiciary has a critical role to play in a democracy. So does the media. And so do the voices of everyday people – this is their legislature and their province," Horwath said in the release.

"We reject Doug Ford's actions to hold Toronto's election hostage until he gets his way."

Opposition MPPs were furious as they hammered on their desks as the Speaker tried to re-introduce a bill to slash the size of Toronto city council. They were asked to leave and escorted out one by one. 3:05

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser also said his party would introduce an amendment to the legislation that could delay its passage.

"There was chaos inside here today," he told reporters. "The premier has made a decision that has created instability and uncertainty and divided people."

The bill that was previously introduced was struck down by a Superior Court judge earlier this week.

The new bill, like the old, aligns the city's municipal ward boundaries with provincial and federal electoral districts and reduces the number of council seats to 25 from 47. It maintains the currently scheduled civic election date of October 22, but extends the nomination period to two days after the bill receives royal assent.

The political theatrics followed a fiery question period earlier Wednesday, when Horwath and Ford traded barbs and protests erupted in the public gallery that shut down the proceedings for about 15 minutes.

Opposition MPPs were furious as they hammered the Progressive Conservative government with questions about Ford's intention to use the constitutional provision — known as the notwithstanding clause — to override a court decision from earlier this week that struck down the initial legislation aimed at cutting Toronto council.

Justice Edward Belobaba said Monday that the bill halving the size of council in the middle of an election campaign violated freedom of expression rights of candidates and voters.

It has never been used in the province before and critics have condemned the move, saying the clause was not designed to deal with this kind of issue.

Members of the public lined up outside Queen's Park early Wednesday morning in an effort to get a seat to observe the proceedings.

During question period, Horwath asked if Ford believes that Canada needs a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and accused him of having a "vendetta" against Toronto voters.

"What Canada needs and Ontario needs and Toronto needs is democracy. Democracy," Ford said. "I want to remind the Official Opposition that 2.3 million people voted for the PC Party."

Protesters shout down Ford

Horwath reminded Ford that he did not mention cutting Toronto council during the provincial election campaign earlier this year. Ford did not address the comment directly. Instead, he accused Horwath of pandering to "her crony buddies" on Toronto council by defending its larger size.

During a raucous question period, Premier Doug Ford defended his intention to use the notwithstanding clause to enact legislation that would cut the size of Toronto city council nearly in half. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Speaker had to remind MPPs several times not to assign motive to anyone's words or actions during question period.

As Ford and Horwath traded barbs, protesters began yelling "bully" and "this is not democracy," drowning out the proceedings.

After about five minutes, the Speaker cleared the public gallery and called a recess. When the legislature resumed, Horwath asked Attorney General Caroline Mulroney about taking away Ontarians' "fundamental rights."

After the Speaker recessed the house following disruptions from protesters, several people were led out of the gallery in restraints by Queen's Park security. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Mulroney responded that the government is "using Charter rights to uphold the Constitution."

She also said the government is moving quickly on the issue because "time is of the essence" with an election scheduled for Oct. 22.

Meanwhile, the political and legal wrangling has left the civic election campaign in chaos.

The protesters coughed loudly while Ford spoke, and yelled 'Shame!' and 'Democracy' at him as he exited the house for the recess. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Toronto Mayor John Tory has said invoking the clause is a "gross overreach" of the province's powers, adding city staff will advise councillors at a special meeting on Thursday how the municipality can proceed with the Oct. 22 election.

Ford maintains cutting Toronto city council to 25 from 47 is necessary to streamline decision-making and save taxpayer money. In a news release issued Wednesday afternoon, Ford said the move will save taxpayers $25 million over four years, but did not provide details.

With files from The Canadian Press