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COURT RULES AGAINST PARTIES FIGHTING METRO TORONTO MERGER

Siding with opponents of Metro Toronto's merger into one city only in spirit, Ontario Court Justice Stephen Borins said the province may have shown "mega-chutzpah" in pushing through its bill to merge the area's six municipalities into one mega-city despite massive opposition, but it has the legal right to do it.

The ruling was a solid defeat for the five municipal councils, four community groups and 125 individuals who argued the province's bill violated local rights and freedoms.

But Borins ruled the province has authority over municipal government.

"It may be the government displayed mega-chutzpah in proceeding" by forcing the amalgamation of local Toronto governments into one, but the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada's Constitution "does not guarantee an individual the right to live his or her life free from government chutzpah or imperiousness."

Though the Ontario government acted on its merger plans "with little or no public notice (and) without any attempt to enter into meaningful consultation with those people who would be most affected by it," he said, this "is the prerogative of government. The (Supreme Court) has made it clear that there is no obligation on government to consult the electorate before it introduces legislation."

The arguments of the opponents of amalgamation he heard earlier this month during a four-day court case in the Ontario Court's General Division, he said, were political, not legal.

"The concerns of the applicants are political," he wrote, and while they raise the issue of government accountability, "there is, of course, the traditional way for the electorate" to change this -- through the ballot box.

Borins said nothing in the charter gives municipalities constitutional status, and nothing in the constitution or constitutional convention suggests a province must consult with a municipality before passing legislation aimed at its restructuring.

Opponents of the mega-city merger claimed a quiet moral victory in the ruling.

Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall called the decision unfortunate, but "unambiguous."

North York Mayor Mel Lastman, an expected contender for the job of mega-Toronto's first mayor, chose not to join the other Metro municipalities in the case.

"Perry Mason couldn't have won that case," he said. "I was hoping they would win, but I knew they wouldn't."

Christine Burkitt, a spokeswoman for Al Leach, Ontario municipal affairs minister, said the government was pleased with the court ruling.

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