Doug Ford is trampling on the rights of all Ontarians

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Sept. 10, 2018.   By

For the past 36 years, ever since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched in Canada’s Constitution, Ontario premiers of all political persuasions managed to govern while respecting our fundamental rights.

All eight of them — Davis, Miller, Peterson, Rae, Harris, Eves, McGuinty and Wynne — dealt with weighty, controversial issues. The province grew and prospered. And none of the premiers found it necessary to brush aside basic Charter freedoms and invoke the Constitution’s nuclear option, the “notwithstanding” clause, to exercise their will.

Now, barely 10 weeks after he took office, Doug Ford has pushed that button. And in the name of what great cause, what overarching matter of principle? Oh yes: cutting the size of Toronto city council.

That was a bad idea and, as it turns out, an unconstitutional one under the circumstances, as Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba made clear on Monday in a pithy, persuasive ruling.

But how much worse is Ford’s decision to recall the Ontario legislature and ram through Bill 5 again, this time using the notwithstanding clause for the first time ever in the province?

This is the legal equivalent of crushing a mosquito with a sledgehammer. It calls into question Ford’s judgment and validates Justice Belobaba’s telling comment that the law was rushed in while the municipal election was near its halfway point “more out of pique than principle.” For Ford, clearly, this is personal.

And the stakes are far higher now than the size of Toronto council, or even the importance of local democracy. People outside Toronto might well have wondered what it all had to do with them.

Invoking the notwithstanding clause, though, means that everyone’s rights are now in danger. Ford stated plainly that he “won’t be shy” about going there again if his will is thwarted. His theory of democracy is simple: I got elected, so I get my way. Full stop.

Who will be the next group to be brushed aside, their charter rights disrespected and disregarded? Presumably it will be whoever gets in Ford’s way, especially any group that manages to persuade a court that their rights have been infringed. This premier has served notice that he doesn’t respect other peoples’ rights and, despite his token protestations to the contrary, he doesn’t respect the role of the judiciary in interpreting and enforcing them.

More to the point, Ford is simply wrong about how democracy works in this country. We don’t elect a dictator for four years. A legislative majority does not mean a premier has a blank cheque to do whatever the heck he wants.

We have a complex system of institutions — and the justice system is one of the most important — that guard our rights and freedoms. Any government that fails to understand that, or thinks it can steamroll every obstacle before it, is violating the basic norms of our democracy and will suffer for it. When Ford says he finds it “shocking” that a judge can derail the will of an elected government, he simply shows he doesn’t understand the Canadian system.

In the case of Bill 5, Ford could indeed get his way — just not immediately. In his ruling, Justice Belobaba made clear that the province has the right to impose its will on the City of Toronto. The issue was timing: changing the rules in the middle of the game by cutting the number of wards from 47 to 25 created “widespread confusion and uncertainty” and “undermined an otherwise fair and equitable election process.”

A wise premier would have backed up, recognized the problems with changing council halfway through an election campaign and set about changing the system for the next time around. The city could have had a rousing debate about how best to organize council, but eventually the province would get its way if it insisted.

But that clearly wasn’t good enough for this premier. It’s no great leap to conclude that he is singling out Toronto council because of the tangled history that he and his late brother Rob had with that body. But personal grudges are no way to run a railroad, or a province.

Ford has recalled the legislature for Wednesday to pass Bill 5 again with the notwithstanding clause attached. And he says he will allow a free vote among his Progressive Conservative caucus on the issue.

PC members of the legislature are now on the spot. Their leader says they can vote their conscience on this issue, so where will they stand? Will they simply line up behind him or will they stand up for the importance of Charter rights?

Members of Ford’s cabinet also need to come clean. In particular, where will Attorney General Caroline Mulroney come down on this issue?

Her father, former prime minister Brian Mulroney, once famously said that Section 33 of the Constitution (the notwithstanding clause), means the charter of rights is “not worth the paper it’s written on.” Will she agree with her father and repudiate Ford’s use of Section 33? Or will she meekly fall in line with her boss?

This is a turning point for Ontario, and indeed for all of Canada. Never before has a government outside Quebec (which had its own historical reasons for invoking the notwithstanding clause) taken such a cavalier approach to the importance of the charter.

If Ford’s own caucus and cabinet don’t rein him in, they will be complicit in a historic betrayal of our freedoms.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2018/09/10/doug-ford-is-trampling-on-the-rights-of-all-ontarians.html

1 Comment

  1. I also remember reading that it may be a
    Illegal or cause issues not just in Ontario
    Excuse me
    I hate so rarely but Doug ford and his hooligans need to step down
    I wish there was a way that after 2 lawsuits and another one possibly coming it’s time to go provincial leaders shouldn’t be able to against rights.

    I wish I could put more effort but I am exhausted

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *