Where are the voices of law and rea­son in Doug Ford’s cab­i­net?

Caro­line Mul­roney vowed to de­fend the rule of law. Un­til she didn’t

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion - MARTIN REGG COHN Martin Regg Cohn is a colum­nist based in Toronto cov­er­ing On­tario pol­i­tics. Fol­low him on Twitter: @reg­gcohn

Be care­ful what you wish for.

When Caro­line Mul­roney first an­nounced her can­di­dacy for On­tario’s 2018 elec­tion, the fu­ture was hers. Back then, she pub­licly sup­ported of­fi­cial Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive poli­cies on an up­dated sex ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum, a car­bon tax, and the rule of law. Un­til she didn’t.

Eclipsed by Doug Ford in this year’s lead­er­ship race, she folded on car­bon pric­ing. Still, she stood her ground on sex-ed. Un­til she didn’t.

When Ford tri­umphed, he made her at­tor­ney gen­eral and, thus re­warded, she re­vised her po­si­tion on our sex-ed cul­ture wars and the car­bon clash with Ottawa. Still, she vowed to de­fend the rule of law. Un­til she didn’t.

Now, in­stead of dis­tin­guish­ing her­self as a ju­di­cious de­fender of law and or­der, she is dis­cred­it­ing her­self as the en­abler of an in­ju­di­cious pre­mier. In­stead of com­port­ing her­self as chief law of­fi­cer of the crown, she is con­flat­ing her role with that of Ford fac­to­tum.

Mul­roney is not solely re­spon­si­ble for the Ford fi­asco, whereby the pre­mier has in­voked the “not­with­stand­ing” clause of the Char­ter of Rights for the first time ever in On­tario. But by virtue of her unique cab­i­net po­si­tion, she bears a higher bur­den to rein in reck­less­ness, to op­pose ar­bi­trari­ness, to ad­vo­cate for the rule of law.

Con­sider, for ex­am­ple, the pri­macy of free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion, the prin­ci­ple of non-in­ter­fer­ence in demo­cratic elec­tions, the prac­tice that judges should be re­spected and not re­viled. Where is the at­tor­ney gen­eral when Ford flouts le­gal con­ven­tions and lashes out at the ju­di­ciary?

When the pre­mier de­mo­nizes judges as po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees who dare not judge him, let alone over­rule him — claim­ing that an elected pre­mier reigns supreme un­til the next vote, free from ju­di­cial scru­tiny — does the at­tor­ney gen­eral not cau­tion him, counter him, or con­tra­dict him?

It is a fair ques­tion for Mul­roney, not just be­cause of her oner­ous re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as at­tor­ney gen­eral, but her legacy as the daugh­ter of a con­se­quen­tial prime min­is­ter whose name she has surely prof­ited from (con­ve­niently con­dens­ing her full name, Caro­line Mul­roney Lapham, when she en­tered pol­i­tics).

As Mul­roney ac­knowl­edged Wed­nes­day, her fa­ther has al­ways den­i­grated the Char­ter’s not­with­stand­ing clause, and he did so again un­equiv­o­cally this week, not­ing that as PM he “had no in­ter­est in us­ing it, no mat­ter what.”

No mat­ter what. As­suredly not for a par­ti­san-mo­ti­vated brawl with Toronto city coun­cil.

When an­other party el­der speaks out — in the per­son of Bill Davis — does not our at­tor­ney gen­eral take note? Davis stressed any over­ride of the Char­ter’s pro­tec­tions was in­tended as an in­stru­ment of last re­sort. As Davis told TVO’s Steve Paikin: “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.”

Caro­line Mul­roney is not alone in her be­trayal of the Char­ter. Other lawyers in the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus, who should also know bet­ter, are dis­play­ing sim­i­lar fealty to Ford in­stead of loy­alty to the Con­sti­tu­tion — like, for ex­am­ple, Doug Downey, a for­mer trea­surer of the On­tario Bar As­so­ci­a­tion; and Deputy Pre­mier Christine El­liott, who has long had a spe­cial in­ter­est in hu­man rights law.

“Why on Earth would we want to ex­pose our­selves by plung­ing reck­lessly into such a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue?” El­liott once said when con­demn­ing a pro­posal that would weaken hu­man rights in On­tario.

That was in 2009, when El­liott warned the PCs against alien­at­ing vot­ers by elim­i­nat­ing the On­tario Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal. What does El­liott say now?

What about the other min­is­ters and cau­cus mem­bers who were sup­posed to act as a check on the un­tram­melled power of Ford?

In the free vote held Wed­nes­day, not a sin­gle mem­ber of the PC cau­cus dared to vote against first reading of the pre­mier’s shame­ful dis­rup­tion and desta­bi­liza­tion of mu­nic­i­pal pol­i­tics in the mid­dle of an elec­tion.

For Mul­roney and her fel­low Tories at Queen’s Park, their dreams of power have fi­nally been re­al­ized. Just not quite the way they first en­vi­sioned their wishes com­ing true.

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