Ford government over the line invoking notwithstanding clause

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government recently delivered its 2020 budget, including projections for deficits in the coming years. photo by Bruce Reeve, licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0

Premier Doug Ford has demonstrated a long history of flirting with authoritarianism, pushing a “my way or the highway” agenda that has too often wandered into blatant bullying during his tenure at the helm in Queen’s Park. The draconian police powers Premier Ford tried to put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was forced to back down on through public outcry being a recent case in point—even the province’s police forces balked at that overextension of authority, think about that.

It is hard to believe our erstwhile provincial leader could top himself, but then came the decision to extend the limitations on political advertising by third parties for a year—a clear and transparent attempt to muzzle the voice of unions during the leadup to the next election in 2022.

So odious was that bit of partisan political legislation that the courts tossed the election expense law to the curb. Enter what a Globe and Mail editorial called “the political equivalent of a toddler’s screaming fit.”

Premier Ford called the legislature back to invoke the notwithstanding clause, an escape clause contained in the Canadian constitution that was intended to deal with competing interests. Ontario has never invoked the clause—Quebec has done so, but in the general spirit of competing interests for which the clause was originally envisioned.

Premier Ford has obviously been itching to swing that club on Ontario’s behalf since first taking office—he tried to do so once before, but court decisions went his way on that occasion, depriving him of the opportunity.

One of the challenges with our parliamentary form of government is that a party holding a majority in the legislature holds near dictatorial powers—so tempting for a demagogue who manages to slip that power into their hands.

The majority of seats currently held by the Progressive Conservatives means that Premier Ford’s blatant partisan power-washing of the province’s election expense laws to prevent any dissent will undoubtedly pass; none of his party cronies are likely to gainsay him as the measures are designed to benefit their own election fortunes.

Mr. Ford’s handling of the pandemic, an initial source of political fuel during the earlier days, has since become something of a political albatross for his party. His own popularity with the electorate had been plunging badly even before his COVID-19 missteps began chipping away at the polls. The last thing the Progressive Conservative Party needs heading into the coming months leading up to the 2022 election are constant reminders of what the Tories have been up to under the cover of COVID from the less than friendly teachers’ unions.

There is no question that invoking the notwithstanding clause for blatantly partisan reasons lies well beyond the pale in a free and democratic society. The real question is, will the electors’ memories be so short that they will have forgotten over the intervening year this and other misuses of power without the constant reminders provided by third party advertising?

One wonders who or what might next find itself the target of Mr. Ford’s “notwithstanding our rights and freedoms” agenda. Freedom of the press springs to mind—those pesky journalists are always asking uncomfortable questions after all and they are plainly all out to get him. Fake news, anyone?

When it comes time to mark a ballot in the next election, hopefully in days when we can once again gather with family and friends, remember this day—eight days following the anniversary of the storming of Juno Beach—when Premier Ford made provincial history by trampling on our rights and freedoms for partisan gain.