Doug Ford says it’s ham­mer time

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial -

Mon­day, Sept. 10 in On­tario, things went bal­lis­tic — and it’s some­thing the elec­torate in every prov­ince should be think­ing over.

A judge ruled that the On­tario gov­ern­ment’s leg­is­la­tion to shrink the num­ber of coun­cil seats in Toronto was crit­i­cally flawed and struck it down on con­sti­tu­tional grounds.

Premier Doug Ford’s move? He promised to sus­pend part of the Cana­dian con­sti­tu­tion us­ing pow­ers that have not been used by any On­tario gov­ern­ment.

“I be­lieve the judge’s de­ci­sion is deeply, deeply con­cern­ing,” Ford told a news con­fer­ence on Mon­day af­ter­noon. “He’s the judge, I’m the premier. He gets to use his tools.

I’ll use every sin­gle tool to stand up for the peo­ple of On­tario.”

Ford has said he’d use the Con­sti­tu­tion’s not­with­stand­ing clause to wipe out the judge’s de­ci­sion: the clause al­lows a gov­ern­ment to over­ride parts of the Con­sti­tu­tion for as many as five years.

It’s like us­ing a flamethrower to kill a fly: not only has the clause not been used in On­tario, it’s cer­tainly never been used any­where in Canada for an is­sue as small as the makeup of a mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil.

The thing is, Ford had other tools: the judge in the case didn’t have an is­sue with the leg­is­la­tion chang­ing the coun­cil’s makeup, as much as the fact that the change was be­ing done in the midst of an elec­tion.

The Ford gov­ern­ment could have cho­sen to pass new leg­is­la­tion order­ing the change to be in place for the next mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion.

Like­wise, the On­tario gov­ern­ment could (and did) seek an ex­pe­dited ap­peal of the de­ci­sion.

In­stead, Ford wants to ar­gue the Con­sti­tu­tion shouldn’t ap­ply to his gov­ern­ment’s laws.

In the process, Ford said he wasn’t go­ing to stop with just one use of the not­with­stand­ing clause: he ba­si­cally told re­porters he “won’t be shy” about us­ing it again if he felt the courts were get­ting in his way.

The idea that the not­with­stand­ing clause could be­come a sort of po­lit­i­cal go-to to any time a pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment loses in a court case on con­sti­tu­tional grounds is an alarm­ing con­cept. It would es­sen­tially mean a gov­ern­ment elected by the nar­row­est of mar­gins could choose to elim­i­nate a cit­i­zen’s con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tions al­most at will.

Ford is right that he and his agenda (the change to the Toronto coun­cil was not part of his plat­form dur­ing the elec­tion) were picked by the peo­ple of On­tario.

But pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments al­ready have ex­ten­sive pow­ers to en­force their agen­das. Prov­inces can — and have — used even leg­is­la­tion like a time ma­chine, es­sen­tially deem­ing it to have been passed years ago to foil suc­cess­ful le­gal chal­lenges. Us­ing the ham­mer of the not­with­stand­ing clause is a new low. Let’s hope no other prov­inces de­cide that sus­pend­ing the con­sti­tu­tion is a le­git­i­mate short­cut to im­pos­ing their po­lit­i­cal will.

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