On Monday, Premier Doug Ford held a press conference that was nothing short of exceptional; exceptional in a bad way.
Ford held that press conference following the news that a judge had blocked his government’s legislation to nearly cut the size of Toronto city council in half. The judge ruled that attempting to restructure the city’s council in the midst of a municipal election campaign was unconstitutional.
In an outrageous display of pettiness that conveyed much about Ford’s true character, he announced he was prepared to enact the notwithstanding clause in order to override the judge’s decision, so he could proceed with his meddling in the Toronto election.
Just so we’re all clear, the notwithstanding clause is a section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that allows governments to override the Charter itself. It is meant for emergency situations, and has never been used in Ontario. Think about that. It has never been used. And Ford intends to use it for a very petty purpose. Ford is suspending your charter rights in order to carry out his personal agenda.
And it is a very personal agenda, let’s be absolutely clear about that. Ford is obsessed with Toronto city council. Let’s recall that not only is he a former Toronto city councillor, but that he lost the last mayoral contest to current Mayor John Tory. It’s a defeat he clearly hasn’t gotten over. He even mentioned Tory during Monday’s press conference, saying he’s done nothing during the past four years. While Ford claims this move is about making Toronto city council more effective, it’s patently clear it’s really about causing chaos and havoc for former political rivals. This is willful and blatant destruction of a municipal election. This is gross interference in municipal affairs by a provincial government, and was something that was never, ever mentioned during the spring’s provincial election campaign.
“I was elected, the judge was appointed,” Ford said Monday, in a statement that shows blatant disregard for the judiciary, an arm of the system of checks and balances that is the very foundation of our government.
Ford apparently also intends to rule like a despot, as he made it clear he would not hesitate to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the future, if he feels the need. This could have ramifications for the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario in its legal action against the province regarding changes to the health and physical curriculum, as well as a host of other court proceedings.
It’s truly frightening. If Doug Ford is willing to suspend your charter rights to win his feud with John Tory, what else is he willing to suspend them for? And how many other provincial leaders will see this as carte blanche to simply start using the notwithstanding clause at will?
Admittedly, this column went to press before Wednesday’s vote on enacting the clause. Perhaps members of Ford’s party will shut him down, but probably not.
They are the only ones who can, and they need to rein him in, now, or they will find themselves on the wrong side of history.