Not­with­stand­ing words, ac­tions speak louder

The Labradorian - - Editorial - Thom Barker [email protected]­barker.ca

Ac­tions words.

That old ch­est­nut is some­thing we all ought to re­mem­ber when we seek to put words into ac­tion in po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

Re­cently, the big news, not just in On­tario, but right across the coun­try, was an On­tario Su­pe­rior Court judge’s de­ci­sion to strike down as un­con­sti­tu­tional bill that would cut Toronto city coun­cil’s size fol­lowed by Premier Doug Ford’s im­me­di­ate use of the Con­sti­tu­tion’s not­with­stand­ing clause to ig­nore it.

I made a com­ment on one of the news sto­ries about it be­ing a clas­sic move straight out of Stephen Harper’s play­book. Pick a fight with the courts, then use it to un­der­mine demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions.

My mis­take in con­jur­ing the ghost of the for­mer prime min­is­ter to im­pugn Ford’s mo­tives was twofold. First, at­tack­ing the mo­tive is a log­i­cal fal­lacy that dis­re­gards the va­lid­ity of an ac­tion or claim based on the ac­tor’s or claimant’s con­flict of in­ter­est, whether real or per­ceived.

Sec­ond, by in­vok­ing the fal­lacy, speak louder than I brought out the Justin Trudeau haters. Some­one im­me­di­ately replied that we have enough prob­lems with the cur­rent goofysock-wear­ing, selfie-tak­ing, virtue-sig­nalling nar­cis­sist in charge to be harkening back to Harper.

And, at that point, we were off Ford and the is­sue at hand. I was la­belled a knee-jerk lib­tard and any hope of a pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tion was gone. While I have my own is­sues with Trudeau’s govern­ment, I will not stand for an ad hominem at­tack that has noth­ing to do with his gov­er­nance, poli­cies or com­pe­tence (or lack thereof, de­pend­ing on your point of view). This, de­spite the fact I had just used the very closely-re­lated at­tack­ing the mo­tive fal­lacy my­self.

Fur­ther­more by blow­ing the “virtue-sig­nalling” dog whis­tle, i.e., ques­tion­ing Trudeau’s mo­tives, the other com­menter was vi­ciously at­tacked as a right-wing Ford flunky and we all re­treated to our tribal echo cham­bers, si­mul­ta­ne­ously righ­teously an­gry and emo­tion­ally sat­is­fied, but no fur­ther ahead.

I later talked to the other com­menter; he’s an old friend of mine. An On­tario res­i­dent, he did not vote for Ford in the elec­tion. Both of us are ac­tu­ally pretty cen­trist in our po­lit­i­cal views and we agree whole­heart­edly on this is­sue. There is plenty to le­git­i­mately crit­i­cize about the words and ac­tions of both the judge and the On­tario Con­ser­va­tives with­out in­vok­ing log­i­cal fal­la­cies.

For the judge’s part, in­vok­ing Sec­tion 2 of the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms to find the law un­con­sti­tu­tional feels a lot like try­ing to fit a square peg into a round hole.

While the judge’s words say that re­draw­ing Toronto’s elec­toral bound­aries in the mid­dle of an elec­tion “sub­stan­tially in­ter­fered with the mu­nic­i­pal voter’s free­dom of ex­pres­sion … and in par­tic­u­lar her right to cast a vote that can re­sult in ef­fec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” many con­sti­tu­tional law ex­perts say his ac­tions sug­gest a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion.

“The is­sue here is whether he was re­ally draw­ing in el­e­ments from an­other Char­ter right, which is the Sec­tion 3 right to vote,” wrote Car­ris­sima Ma­then, vice-dean of the Uni­ver­sity of Ot­tawa’s law fac­ulty.

“My read is that he was re­ally con­cerned by how ar­bi­trary the govern­ment’s de­ci­sion was.”

But Sec­tion 3 does not ap­ply to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, so Sec­tion 2 may have been the judge’s only re­course to strike down what he viewed as bad or ar­bi­trary law be­cause there is no law against mak­ing a bad or ar­bi­trary law, there is only law against mak­ing an il­le­gal law. In this case that meant in con­tra­ven­tion of some­one’s Char­ter rights since even the judge agreed prov­inces have the right to dic­tate the size of mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments.

Ford’s words also spoke of pro­tect­ing democ­racy, but his ac­tions demon­strate a very lim­ited un­der­stand­ing of what democ­racy is.

“This is about pre­serv­ing the will of the peo­ple, this is about pre­serv­ing democ­racy,” he said, not­ing that 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple voted for him and that a demo­crat­i­cally elected govern­ment should not be over­ruled by a “po­lit­i­cally-ap­pointed” judge.

Su­per­fi­cially an elec­tion is a pop­u­lar­ity con­test, but democ­racy is much big­ger than that. It is com­plex sys­tem of checks and balances. We need those checks and balances to make sure govern­ment works for every­body in so­ci­ety in the long-term, not just for the vot­ers who put a par­tic­u­lar, tem­po­rary set of peo­ple in charge in the short-term.

While 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple is a lot of peo­ple, it is only about 23 per cent of el­i­gi­ble On­tario vot­ers and only 40 per cent of the peo­ple who ac­tu­ally voted.

Ford’s cam­paign slo­gan, his words, dur­ing the June elec­tion was: “For the Peo­ple.”

By un­der­min­ing demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions now, his ac­tions say: “For Some Peo­ple.”

Ac­tions speak louder words. than

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