Thanks to Ford, Trudeau now has the elec­tion vil­lain he needs

The Hamilton Spectator - - Opinion - TIM HARPER Tim Harper is a former Star re­porter who is a cur­rent free­lance colum­nist based in Toronto. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @nut­graf1

Be­fore he moved to over­ride the court be­cause it blocked his will, Doug Ford first went to court to try to im­pose his will.

Barely a month af­ter taking of­fice, the On­tario pre­mier went to the On­tario Court of Ap­peal to chal­lenge Justin Trudeau’s right to im­pose a car­bon price on the prov­ince.

It was not only un­fair and un­eth­i­cal, his At­tor­ney Gen­eral Caro­line Mul­roney said, but it was also — wait for it — “un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

Just over a month later the warmth and respect for that Con­sti­tu­tion had dis­ap­peared as Ford in­voked the notwith­stand­ing clause to over­ride an On­tario Su­pe­rior Court de­ci­sion which blocked his at­tempt to make rad­i­cal cuts to Toronto city coun­cil.

An On­tario pre­mier who trum­pets the pri­macy of the leg­isla­tive ma­jor­ity over the rule of law is us­ing the courts to chal­lenge the Trudeau gov­ern­ment and its na­tional par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity.

Both Ford and Trudeau cob­bled to­gether ma­jori­ties on the soft sand of our first-past-the-post elec­toral sys­tem. Trudeau won a na­tional ma­jor­ity with 39.5 per cent of the pop­u­lar vote; Ford won an On­tario ma­jor­ity with 40.5 per cent.

Ford will not respect the man­date from a fed­eral gov­ern­ment, but says his 2.3 mil­lion vot­ers de­mand he steam­roll over a court de­ci­sion he didn’t like.

An­other dif­fer­ence — Trudeau at least cam­paigned on cli­mate change and na­tional com­mit­ments, if not his right to im­pose pric­ing on prov­inces — while Ford did not cam­paign on a plan to slice and dice local democ­racy in the coun­try’s largest city.

The On­tario pre­mier has done many things this week. He has reawak­ened a long dor­mant in­ter­est in our Con­sti­tu­tion and sparked de­bate over the power of cities and the use of courts to thwart leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives.

But most importantly he has opened a de­bate on the rule of law ver­sus a tru­cu­lent strain of pop­ulism and Trudeau’s Lib­er­als will gladly take this open­ing.

To be cer­tain, Lib­er­als have a litany of chal­lenges, in­clud­ing un­kept prom­ises, eth­i­cal chal­lenges and a pen­chant for sym­bol­ism over sub­stance.

But it can cam­paign against vil­lains.

Should a re­newed NAFTA blow up, Trudeau can cam­paign against Don­ald Trump, por­tray­ing him­self as the leader who stood up to the bully to the south. It is an open ques­tion as to whether that would be enough if puni­tive tar­iffs were act­ing as a wreck­ing ball to the Cana­dian econ­omy.

But it’s al­most cer­tain Trudeau will ramp up his sup­port of the Char­ter and the pri­macy of the ju­di­cial sys­tem as he cam­paigns against Ford.

Trudeau largely held his fire while oth­ers — Brian Mul­roney, Bob Rae, Bill Davis among the most notable names — raised alarm bells about Ford’s use of the notwith­stand­ing clause.

The prime min­is­ter doesn’t need an­other fight with a prov­ince right now. But his gov­ern­ment knows there is no point in ever try­ing to cosy up to Ford, so it will likely bide its time and let the chaos play out in On­tario be­fore ramp­ing up the virtue mes­sage, a tac­tic that drives his op­po­nents crazy but has so far served Trudeau well.

Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer needs to tread care­fully. He has ac­knowl­edged Ford has the le­gal right to use the clause, so far noth­ing more.

Fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives need Ford, but they can­not over­play their hand by em­brac­ing the most egre­gious gam­bits of On­tario’s dis­rup­tor-in-chief.

Scheer seeks to of­fer Cana­di­ans a non-threat­en­ing, sta­ble home next year.

NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh will rightly go to bat for the Char­ter but, again, the danger for him is he will cede his voice to Trudeau.

This battle was fore­shad­owed by a Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive in­sider who told the Toronto Star’s Robert Benzie that Ford’s mus­cu­lar re­sponse to the On­tario court com­pared favourably to Trudeau’s timid re­sponse to a Fed­eral Court rul­ing that halted the ex­pan­sion of the Trans Moun­tain Pipe­line.

But Benzie’s source didn’t un­der­stand the Con­sti­tu­tion. He or she said Trudeau could have in­voked the notwith­stand­ing clause to get his pipe­line ex­pan­sion un­der­way and chose not to go that route.

He couldn’t.

But the prime min­is­ter did re­ject any “leg­isla­tive tricks” to speed ap­proval of the pipe­line, no mat­ter how much woe the court caused him.

At least Trudeau is re­spect­ing the rule of law. There is much to be said for that.

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