What if I told you that the bombastic leader of the most populous province of a small nation held an unprecedented midnight sitting of parliament to ram through a law to overrule the judiciary to interfere in an ongoing election against his political rivals?
You would think it was some Banana Republic.
But it isn’t.
Well, Doug Ford’s Ontario, anyway.
I’m old enough to remember when the scandals in Canadian politics came from Québec. But thanks almost exclusively to the Fords, Ontario is now the province making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
It’s quite a fall from Ford’s most esteemed predecessor premier, who famously and rightly quipped “bland works”.
Premier Ford is dressing up his unprecedented interference in an ongoing election all kinds of ways. But we would do well to remember what’s really happening here, despite his attempts at justification.
He’s doing it to save costs — some $25 million over four years. Or is that $25 million a year? Or maybe $15 million? Depends on who you ask and when you ask them. But hey — what’s a few million amongst Tories?
He’s doing it to let Toronto City Council make decisions faster, because everyone knows fewer people means faster decision-making. I’ll grant that seems reasonable enough on its face.
Except, by interfering in the midst of the election — changing the rules midway through the game — he’s caused untold chaos and confusion. The City Clerk worries about running the election in the midst of the confusion, some candidates have taken the bizarre step of endorsing their opponents, but only if they’re running in the 25-ward scenario, and it has even led some legal experts to speculate that the Council, once elected, will face all sorts of challenges to their legitimacy and ability to operate. So, that’s one step forward on efficiency, and like thirty-four steps backwards, at best.
He’s doing it because there should be as many Councillors as there are MPPs and MPs — well, only in Toronto, because…well, there isn’t really an answer except, I guess, that everyone hates Toronto and wants fewer politicians, so there. Plus, MPs and MPPs have two offices at the parliament and in the constituency, and more staff, and surely to goodness Ford doesn’t want to add more costs to enable fewer Councillors to serve their communities better.
He’s doing it because bike lanes are bad, or something.
He’s doing it because he can.
We don’t yet know if a court will throw up further hurdles, or if the government could still yet lose its appeal, but we do know that Conservative MPPs won’t stand up to Doug. And John Tory’s gonna John Tory his way through this crisis the way he always does: in a roundabout way that thrills no one but at least seems measured (he’s from that earlier generation of Tory for whom “bland works” was high praise).
All we do know is that this was all unnecessary.
I had my disagreements with the judge’s verdict declaring the initial Bill 5 unconstitutional. But he did get one thing right: this is more about personal “pique than principle”.
Doug’s doing this because he can, and he wants to.
He’s forcing 71 other Tory MPPs to vote to override a Charter right for the first time in the province’s history to satisfy one thing and one thing only: his personal, petty grudge from his one term as a City Councillor from Etobicoke — the revenge of the failed mayoral candidate.
The notwithstanding clause has never been used in Ontario, and is rarely used in Canada. Debate over its use in this case has centred on the notion that Ford needs to enact his agenda in a timely manner, despite the court’s verdict.
But that ignores the truly unprecedented nature of what he’s doing. He’s interfering in an election. He is not only changing the rules in the middle of the game. He is, in effect, cancelling dozens of races by merging them into fewer “super races” (and, indeed, cancelling elections outright in the case of the regional chair elections).
Set aside all the arguments and the punditry. This isn’t a complicated matter. This isn’t even about reasserting parliamentary sovereignty, which is a debate we had largely settled in favour of upholding Charter rights. And it certainly isn’t a thoughtful, reasoned debate on that question.
It’s interference in an election, no more, no less. We’d do well to keep that in mind, because when we think about this issue at its most basic, it’s actually truly alarming.
Photo Credit: Jeff Burney, Loonie Politics
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