It’s been a rough three years in Ontario, and that’s before you factor in the hellish 15 months, we’ve had with the COVID pandemic. The one constant in all of this has been the leadership of Ontario’s Conservative Premier Doug Ford. He’s shown a constant inability to lead in a credible manner, an unwillingness to follow process and flat-out refusal to show the bare minimum of respect for those who have the temerity to disagree with him. We’ve seen this through his premiership, and even during the pandemic.
It’s for that reason that many Ontarians are looking forward to next years provincial election and the chance to vote Doug and his crew out of office. But Doug has never been so concerned about playing clean or treating our politics with the respect that it deserves. He’s always been of the mind that “the ends always justifies the means”, and has acted accordingly. He did it with his attacks on the Trudeau Liberals through his gas-pump sticker campaign leading into the last Federal election, and was only reigned in after the courts told him that his law forcing that action was unconstitutional.
You’d think that one might learn from cases like that one that you just can’t trample the constitutional rights of Ontarians just because it suits your political whims. But if you thought that, you don’t know Doug Ford. Earlier in the year the Ford team passed Bill 254, the so-called “Protecting Ontario Elections Act”. As you might expect from such a bill, it was a partisan attempt to tilt the playing field in the Conservatives favour for the 2022 provincial election. Nora Loreto of Passage wrote a good piece on this at the time, pointing out the problems with this bill that went far beyond the usual bill that might regulate political financing. This bill went so far as to do the following:
- Changed Ontario’s pre-election period for third-party financing rules from six months to 12 months, while barely raising the amount those groups are allowed to spend.
- Registered third parties will no longer be able to use the same vendors as other registered third parties “that share a common advocacy, cause or goal.”
- The Bill made it illegal for third parties that have a “common advocacy, cause or goal” to “[share] information” with each other, with no definition as to what “information” or “vendor” actually will mean.
These are actions that took direct aim at unions and other third-party groups with one specific goal; make it harder for these groups to legally participate and oppose the Ford Government. These groups have effectively opposed the Conservatives for years and this is a blatant attempt to kneecap those who might oppose them. They are not only trying to quiet them, but trying to dictate who they can and can’t do business with, which is quite the twist for the “Open for Business” party. That’s one of the reasons why just yesterday Ontario Justice Ed Morgan struck it down, ruling that several sections of the bill infringed on rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Again, another Ford law struck down as unconstitutional by the courts. But this time instead of adjusting his political strategy or respecting the decisions of the court, Ford decided to go in an historically dangerous direction that no Premier in Ontario has ever gone before:
Folks, I can’t understate just how much of an abuse of power this is from the Ford Conservatives. This is literally the nuclear option in our Constitution, which is basically to ignore it. This clause has rarely been used and no Ontarian government had never done it before and for good reason. It’s the heaviest of heavy hands and was created only for the most rare and impossible of situations. The whole point of it was to almost never be used, and it clearly wasn’t intended for this purpose. You can just imagine how this was responded to:
Let’s be clear, using the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian constitution to deliberately abuse and infringe on the Constitutional rights of Ontarians in the democratic process is far beyond the pale. This clause was never intended to be used on matters of electoral law or to help a governing party tilt the democratic tables clearly in their favour. And if there was any doubt as to the fact that this is what this was all about, this polling just happened to come out today:
Funny that, lookie there. The Ford Conservatives have the NDP hot on their heels with a year to go until the next election. But doing this now, bringing back the Legislature and trying to use the nuclear sledgehammer of the notwithstanding clause, Doug Ford can buy himself an extra 6 months of gagging and knee capping his opponents. It’s anti-democratic behaviour of the worst order, but it’s also amazingly hypocritical. As Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pointed out during her press conference this afternoon, the Ontario Conservatives are legally registered as a third-party group federally right now. Those crap TV ads about COVID-19 attacking the Trudeau Liberals that have been bombarding your hockey playoff games? They’re paid for by the Ontario PC Party and running what is likely a few months before the next election. He’s running ads in Ontario against Ottawa that, with this anti-democratic move, would be seriously limited and made harder to do against Ford in Ontario today, almost a year before the next election his faces. If the Trudeau Liberals, or any union, or the Working Families Coalition decided to run their own “Doug Sucks!” ads, this law would muzzle their ability to do that, which is exactly the point. That’s exactly why the courts struck this down and that’s exactly why this is so abhorrent and undemocratic.
What makes it worse is that Judge Morgan pointed out that the idea of having limits on third-party spending were just fine in principle. He just ruled that Ford went too far in what he was trying to do. If Ford wanted to amend the legislation and dial it back, he could easily have done it and never needed to touch the notwithstanding clause. Other provinces all around the country have legislation that do exactly that, and they never needed to drop this bomb to make it happen. Essentially by doing this Doug Ford is openly saying that the goal of this legislation is to suppress the Constitutional rights of Ontarians, period. If what he wanted to do didn’t run afoul of the Constitution, he would need to invoke the notwithstanding clause. But by doing this, he is telling Ontarians that his need to win the next election is more important that your constitutionally protect rights to free expression. And if you don’t believe me, ask Judge Morgan, because it’s his ruling saying that it was unconstitutional that brought us here.
Of all the things that Doug Ford has done since rising to office in 2019, this is right up there on the list of the worst things that he’s done, which is saying a lot. It also says just how far he is willing to go to try to stay in power, a prospect that Ontarians cannot ignore. If he’s willing to abuse and ignore the Constitution to win the next election, what else will he do? That normally wouldn’t be a reasonable question to ask but with this action today, Ford is forcing our hands to think in such stark terms. Because never in Ontario’s history has a Premier decided to crap all over the Constitution strictly for his own personal gain. And if that leads Ontarians to question what else Doug Ford might do in that end, he and his caucus members have no one else to blame but themselves.