Premier’s free speech convictions superficial
principled leaders inspire the best in us. but there is no inspiration quite so flaccid as a principled stand abandoned at the first expediency.
On aug. 30, premier doug Ford took a stand to protect free expression on campus. the province put Ontario colleges and universities on notice, warning they have until Jan. 1 to develop and implement freespeech policies, or risk losing government funding.
“too many” student groups have being denied status on campus because of unpopular views, according to minister of training, Colleges and universities merrilee Fullerton. to promote critical thinking, she said, institutions of higher learning need to stop shielding students from ideas they may find offensive.
the announcement provoked principled debate. exposure to opposing viewpoints is essential to learning. So is a safe learning environment. Campus administrators balance these considerations when approached by speakers and groups whose philosophies skirt the edge of outright hate speech.
“Our government made a commitment to the people of Ontario to protect free speech on campuses,” Ford said in a statement. “promise made, promise kept.”
Not two weeks later, Ford tossed aside his free-speech principles like a balled-up tissue.
On Sept. 10, an Ontario court quashed the premier’s heavy-handed move to cut toronto city council to 25 wards from 47, in the middle of an election. in his ruling, Ontario Superior Court Justice edward belobaba noted boundary changes “substantially interfered with the municipal candidates’ freedom of expression” as well as voters’ rights to effective representation.
Ford did not campaign on toronto ward boundaries, but he wasted no time pledging to get around the ruling — and the pesky Charter of rights and Freedoms — by invoking the notwithstanding clause.
he could have waited for an appeal, which most folks seem to think his government could have won. but the premier was not content to let the issue play out in the courts. On the contrary, he admonished the courts for having the audacity to impose any limit on his legislative authority.
“i was elected. the judge was appointed,” Ford said, demonstrating a stunning disrespect for a meritbased judicial appointment system, and the rule of law. “i also want to make it clear that we’re prepared to use Section 33 again in the future.”
Section 33 of the Charter allows legislation to remain in force up to five years, and is typically contemplated as a last resort. as former premier bill davis told TVO: “that it might now be used regularly to assert the dominance of any government or elected politician over the rule of law, or the legitimate jurisdiction of our courts of law, was never anticipated or agreed to.”
the overkill was evident not just in Ford’s bluster, but in the scope of rights he pre-emptively added to the renamed efficient local Government act, which passed first reading Wednesday with full pc support.
Justice edward belobaba’s stated objections could have been addressed with Section 2( b) of the Charter, which enshrines “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” but Ford didn’t stop there, nor even with the whole of Section 2, which concerns fundamental freedoms of association, conscience and peaceful assembly. he went ahead and tossed in sections 7 through 15, concerning the rights to life, liberty and security — in short, every Charter exemption permitted — to reduce the size of a single city council.
Great leaders inspire with their convictions. the only principle our premier seems to hold with conviction is his own power to govern, not just as he campaigned, but exactly as he pleases.