On Thursday we saw the first budget brought in by the new Ford Conservative government in Ontario and in it, there was some of what we’ve come to expect and other things that haven’t come to fruition yet. As I mentioned on CFRA on Thursday, I believe the big cuts in education will start to come in the Fall when the collective agreements with Ontario’s teachers start to expire. I expect this government will play extreme hard ball, and Finance Minister Vic Fideli even alluded to that in his budget speech, taking a clear shot across the bows of the teachers’ unions.
But for all the things that were seen to the naked eye in the budget, there were things that were buried deep inside it that are extremely worrying. One of those details came out this weekend, and while it fits the persona and attitude of this Ford government, it’s deeply disturbing and could set a terrible precedent:
Yes folks, Mr. “For the People” wants to make it nearly impossible for the people to sue the Government of Ontario, even in cases where the government has acted in bad faith or breached their duties of office. Of course, this was buried deep in an omnibus budget bill, deep beneath the details of free booze in casinos, tailgating and partisan coloured, double blue licence plates. It’s a cowardly move from this government, but not one that should shock you if you’ve been watching their first few months in office.
So why is this important? How does this affect everyday people? Well, lets start with this; this government just slashed a funding for many different ministries, including a billion from Social Services and half of the Indigenous Affairs Ministry. That Social Services budget helped to pay for autism care, so let’s suppose that as a result of those cuts something awful happens to an autistic child in care. Or let’s say the family of an autistic child decides to challenge these cuts on a charter challenge or on the basis of equity? This change in the law would stop that in it’s tracks.
Remember Walkerton and the tragedy that happened there? I would assume that legislation like this would have stopped the victims, the survivors and their families from suing the government for negligence if it existed then. Remember Ipperwash? I also would assume that this legislation would have prevented the family of Dudley George from suing the government if it existed at that time. How in the Hell does that do the public any good?
I could go on with examples like that but I can see a reason looking ahead for legislation just like this. Remember at the beginning when I mentioned teacher contracts? Well there will be negotiations coming this Fall, and the Ford Government has already made it clear that they expect the education sector, and teachers, to make bigger sacrifices. And that is after already scrapping class size caps and forcing the lay-off of thousands of teachers who have received notice so far, with more to come. But where this legislation could come into place would be if the Ford Government decided to legislate a contract and force certain classroom conditions on them. Why might that be the case? Well legal precedent:
Remember these two cases here where governments tried to impose on teachers in British Columbia and in Ontario. In both cases, the government was found to have erred, and in the BC case, it revolved around class sizes, in a circumstance eerily similar to what the Ford Government has just forced on Ontario classrooms. In that case, it went all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided with the teachers, which has forced BC to hire back thousands of teachers, to the point where they are doing everything they can to try to fill the backlogged need.
Something tells me that come the Fall, Ontario’s teacher unions could have easily mounted a similar case against this government, and with the precedent set in BC, probably would win. And if Ontario tried to force a contract on teachers, just like Bill 115 did back in the last Liberal government, it’s a guarantee that the teachers’ unions would take legal action. So if you’re the Ford government, what do you do? Do realize the situation, correct course and decide to act within the law and legal precedent? Or do you try to weasel your way around it? Well the chose the weasel route it seems.
And if you thought this wasn’t bad enough, this change in the law would actually make this retroactive, meaning that it would apply to cases that are current underway. As the CBC story on this points out, there is a case out there right now, a class action lawsuit by a Toronto law firm on behalf of juvenile inmates placed in solitary confinement. Yep folks, this law would wipe that out, because somehow this government believes that it shouldn’t be accountable for kids being held in solitary confinement for long periods of time. I’m sure that’s exactly what the people were calling for when they electing this crew.
Bills like these bother the hell out of me, mostly because they are the kinds of bills that cowards pass in the dark, hoping no one will notice. This bill is an attempt by Doug Ford to put him and his government above the law, beyond consequence and leave no one ultimately responsible for the actions of the government when they act inappropriately. And folks, that is the biggest problem; responsible government, like ours, only works when the government is actually answerable and responsible to the people. One of the avenues that the people have to be heard is the court system. It’s one of the most important checks and balances that we have on the elected people in this country. Bills like these just spit in the face of that responsibility, that check and screams to everyone out there that this government feels they can’t act within the proper bounds of the law and act the way they want. That should be a warning sign of Bat-signal proportions, not only of their actions on this piece of legislation, but for what they might want to do in the near future.