One Manitowaning Road

Doug Ford and other premiers must back off our Charter

When it comes to doing the hard work of running a province, with all of its many competing interests and issues, life is rarely easy. These days, however, the question most often popping into provincial leaders’ minds seems to be, “Why use a flyswatter when a sledgehammer will do?”
Instead of doing the heavy lifting required to find a suitable meeting ground when faced with thorny issues such as fairly compensating educational support workers, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has once again leaned on the “easy” way out by putting forward legislation that will strip Ontario workers of their rights and freedoms by invoking the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ Notwithstanding Clause.
This Notwithstanding Clause added to the Charter was envisioned as an emergency measure, one which was meant to circumvent “kooky” actions by courts and other regulatory aspects of government in order to maintain peace, order and good government—not one to be used as a whim or a whip.
Premier Ford is in the (unenviable?) position of having to negotiate a contract with workers who have been limited to a one percent rise in wages during a period with three, and now over six, times inflation—while holding a hand containing a surplus budget, thanks to that inflation and the federal government having done the heavy lifting during the pandemic (reference Official Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre’s take on federal largesse during the pandemic).
It is an oddity, likely the result of the ubiquitous right-wing social media goading of the public’s exhaustion with all things pandemic, that it is the federal Liberals and specifically Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who are taking the heat for curbing our rights and freedoms. While it should be patently evident to anyone who is actually paying attention, it is right-leaning governments who have imposed the most onerous mandates and stripping of Canadians’ rights and freedoms through the use of the Notwithstanding Clause.
Premier Ford’s latest stance is that he will withdraw the offending legislation ordering workers back to work and step back from the “nuclear” option of the clause if the workers will agree not to strike. Since the workers have been without any movement on the contract front for over 150 days without any meaningful progress being offered by their employer, the province, and they have given a more than 90 percent mandate to their union to call a strike (or some less onerous job action which has been the route followed most often in the past), it is hard to see why the workers would want to give up their rights.
Premier Ford appears to have fallen into the common trap of businessmen stepping into the world of politics most evocatively expressed by the former US president Donald Trump with the question, ‘why have nuclear weapons if you won’t use them?’
Just because you have a sledgehammer within reach does not mean it should be the first thing you reach for in a crowd when there is a mosquito buzzing around your head. Collateral damage can far outweigh a seemingly simple solution.
If there ever was a time when the federal government should step in to provide some commonsense limitations through its power to set aside this intrusion into our rights and freedoms, this would be it. Otherwise, the proverbial slippery slope will erode Charter protections whenever and wherever a political leader deems it merely expedient, as opposed to absolutely necessary.
Thankfully, at the eleventh hour CUPE has agreed to not go on strike and Premier Ford has backed off of his ill-advised course of action, likely circumventing that most rarest of Canadian events—a general strike where several unions walk out in support of their union brethren.
The constant invocation of the Notwithstanding Clause by our provincial leaders needs to stop. End stop.