Ford’s Toronto is no Toronto

Premier’s be­hav­iour more tyrant than peo­ple’s gover­nor

North Toronto Post - - News -

An ab­so­lute ruler who gov­erns ar­bi­trar­ily with­out con­sti­tu­tional or other re­stric­tions. A ruler who ex­er­cises power in a harsh man­ner.

Those phrases seem to sum up Premier Doug Ford as he re­struc­tures Toronto City Coun­cil, cut­ting it from 47 to 25 coun­cil­lors with no no­tice, no pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sion of al­ter­na­tives, no ra­tio­nal rea­son and with light­ning speed.

Those phrases also come from a dic­tionary’s def­i­ni­tion of a tyrant, which notes that a tyranny is a gov­ern­ment in which a sin­gle ruler is vested with ab­so­lute power. Am I wrong in con­clud­ing Doug Ford is a tyrant?

Most of us tend to think that tyrants arise in other parts of the world, that they can’t hap­pen here. But if we take a close look at what Ford is do­ing, we can’t es­cape the fact that he is act­ing like a tyrant. It has hap­pened here. It is a mess we are caught up in.

And one never knows what a tyrant will do next. If he can get away with one un­rea­son­able ac­tion, that will en­cour­age him to do more.

The fu­ture, as the Leonard Co­hen song says, is mur­der.

The as­sump­tion usu­ally has been that our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment has enough checks and bal­ances that this kind of a sit­u­a­tion will not hap­pen. One check is the Cabi­net sys­tem, where a premier ex­ists within a group of peo­ple who con­sult each other so that un­rea­son­able de­ci­sions can be avoided or min­i­mized. Al­though the premier might be, as they say, first among equals, he or she is con­strained by Cabi­net opin­ion and will not go too far off the rails.

But in this case, Cabi­net con­trols have not been ef­fec­tive. Many ex­pected Carolyn Mul­roney, a lawyer and the at­tor­ney gen­eral, to be a mod­er­at­ing voice, but she is si­lent. Chris­tine El­liot was thought to be rea­son­able, maybe even a red Tory, but she has been si­lent. Rod Phillips, en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter, a young hope­ful in the ranks of the Con­ser­va­tive Party, has been si­lent. Vic Fedeli, former mayor of North Bay and fi­nance min­is­ter, has been si­lent. All have pub­licly sup­ported Ford’s ac­tions.

These and the other Cabi­net min­is­ters are en­ablers, re­fus­ing to pub­licly stand up to tyran­ni­cal be­hav­ior. They are clearly a large part of the prob­lem.

An­other check and bal­ance is the leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee, which hears from the pub­lic on the bill af­ter sec­ond read­ing — ex­cept in this case the Ford gov­ern­ment de­cided it would not hear from the pub­lic, and the bill was not re­ferred to com­mit­tee. The pub­lic was en­tirely ex­cluded.

Premier Ford said tri­umphantly that the pub­lic wanted smaller gov­ern­ment in Toronto.

When the bill re­ceived third and fi­nal read­ing on Aug. 14, the Con­ser­va­tive Party mem­bers had the ef­fron­tery to cheer.

Tyrants of­ten do what they can to sow con­fu­sion in le­git­i­mate or­ga­ni­za­tions that could chal­lenge them, and a tried and true tech­nique is to in­ter­fere with elec­tions. That is cer­tainly the case here, where the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion process was well un­der­way when the an­nounce­ment to re­struc­ture coun­cil was made less than 24 hours be­fore the nom­i­na­tion process closed.

It is not sur­pris­ing that 12 mem­bers of the cur­rent city coun­cil voted to sup­port Ford’s re­struc­tur­ing plan: some peo­ple like the “strong­man” ap­proach to de­ci­sion mak­ing (think Vladimir Putin), and tyrants know they can rely on such peo­ple for sup­port. These sup­port­ers are rank-and­file; they are not en­ablers like the Cabi­net min­is­ters who have real power. They are just cheer­lead­ers who pro­vide a thin veil of what looks to be le­git­i­macy for tyran­ni­cal ac­tion.

Here we are in Toronto, the largest city in Canada, one of the lead­ing cities in the world, and our lo­cal gov­ern­ment is be­ing de­stroyed. This is a fright­en­ing sce­nario. We do not know what Ford might do next.

Find­ing ef­fec­tive ac­tions to rid our­selves of this me­nace will take all of the creativ­ity and or­ga­niz­ing abil­ity we are able to muster in the com­ing months.

Premier Doug Ford at a speech in Hal­i­fax, N.S., last month

JOHN SEWELL Post City Mag­a­zines’ colum­nist John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto and the au­thor of a num­ber of ur­ban plan­ning books, in­clud­ing The Shape of the Sub­urbs.

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