Today I’m going to stepping away from SCA politics and address real-world politics for a bit. As astute readers of this blog know, I live in the Canadian province of Ontario. Recently, we had a provincial election. The Liberal Party (which isn’t) was ousted from power after fifteen years and the Progressive Conservative Party (they aren’t) took a majority of the seats, and despite looking like they had a chance to form a minority government, the New Democratic Party (founded 57 years ago) became the Loyal Opposition. Sounds like a normal election in a parliamentary democracy, right?
Wrong. A few months before the election, Patrick Brown, the leader of the Ontario PC party, got wrapped up in a sudden sex scandal and abruptly resigned (the cynical might point out that he only resigned because it was made clear that he would be ignominiously turfed out of his position otherwise) and the Ontario PCs had a snap leadership convention. Out of that epic shitstorm Doug Ford emerged as party leader, largely elected on a platform of saying whatever the he thought the voters wanted to hear at any given moment and making backroom deals with the alt-right, evangelical fundamentalist and anti-environmental factions within the party. He ran the election campaign in the same vein, including dogwhistle racism, misogyny and homophobia, nonsensical fiscal policies, the shameless populist pandering (“a-buck-a-beer”, anyone?) and the promise to overturn the provincial health and fitness curriculum because religious conservatives hated they way it taught children the correct names for their own anatomy, introduced the radical concept of “informed consent” and mentioned that LGBTQ people exist without including the words “may God will smite the filthy sinners.”
Mix say-anything demagoguery with voter apathy and an antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system, and voilà, Doug Ford became premier of Ontario with a strong majority government despite having only 40% of the popular vote (and less than 25% of the potential vote, although I find that a much less compelling complaint – if you can’t be bothered to vote, fuck you if you don’t like the results.)
You guys remember Doug Ford? He’s the brother of the late Rob Ford, the infamous “crack-smoking mayor” of Toronto. Doug is the colder, crueller, less likable brother. The ambitious, scheming, ruthless brother. The “spent the 80s dealing hash but thinks Trudeau can’t be trusted because he smoked weed in college” brother. The “steal from Rob’s widow and children while using his name to garner sympathy” brother. You know, the “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching towards Etobicoke to be born?” brother.
And now, he’s proven himself the “Do as I say or else” brother, too. Ontario’s municipal election date is coming up fast, and on the very day – almost the very hour – that the registration period was to close, Doug Ford announced that he was introducing Bill 5 to cut the number of wards in Toronto – and therefore the number of city council seats – from 47 to 25. Chaos ensued. People didn’t know if they were registered to run. People didn’t know what the ward boundaries would be. People didn’t know if Bill 5 would even be passed before the election date.
Bill 5 — or the possibility of something like it — had never even been mentioned during the election, and it certainly hadn’t been discussed with Toronto city council. (Several other municipalities, including the Niagara region where I live, were effected, too.) Ford claimed it was being done to “save money” which is bullshit – the combined billing of all the lawyers now involved have probably already soaked up the estimated $25 million in theoretical savings – but his real purpose was blatantly clear: He wanted to gut representation in the progressive centre of Toronto, especially the downtown, as revenge for perceived slights against the Fords while Rob was mayor. (It’s also worth noting that through shameless jerrymandering, the re-drawn ward boundaries disproportionately favour suburban Ford allies on Toronto council.)
This is revenge, ladies and gentlemen. Crude, petty revenge. And Ford’s not even bothering to hide it.
So, of course, Toronto city council took the province to court. And the court, looking objectively at all the facts, condemned Ford’s move as spiteful and petty revenge, stated that it violated the free speech and voting rights of Torontonians, and overturned it. Bill 5 was declared unconstitutional and invalid. Go back to the chalkboard, Dougie, and do it right next time.
And mere hours later, Doug Ford announced that he wouldn’t tolerate the interference of an “activist judge” and would use the Notwithstanding Clause to overturn the court’s decision and pass the unconstitutional bill anyway.
For non-Canadians, the Notwithstanding Clause is part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 33, specifically) which states “Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15.” Or in plain English: “The Charter guarantees everyone’s rights, but sometimes the government might decide to override those rights anyway, so here’s a legal backdoor that lets you do that.”
It’s the ultimate loophole in Canadian politics. And it is worth noting that in the Canadian system, using Section 33 to enforce unconstitutional legislation is not a small matter. It’s the political equivalent of dropping a nuclear weapon on the law. It’s never done lightly or as a matter of course and it’s universally seen as a huge deal. Politicians have watched dearly-held legislation and pet projects and their own careers go down in flames rather than invoke the Notwithstanding Clause. Even if you get what you want, it’s basically political suicide at the next election because if there’s one things Canadians have traditionally hated, it’s someone who doesn’t play by the rules. I cannot overstate how incredibly reluctant politicians are to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause… in fact, since the Charter was ratified in 1981, this is the first time that it’s been invoked in Ontario.
For Doug Ford to invoke it over a petty revenge plot is mind-boggling.
This has gone way beyond the number of Toronto city councillors, or $25 million in savings, or even jerrymandering the largest municipality in the country for the benefit of the conservative party. $25 million in savings for a city of three million people is a joke. The city of Toronto — not the GTHA, the city of Toronto, that area bordered by the 427, the 407 and Pickering Townline Road — spends more than that removing snow from the roads in any given month in any given winter. The entire Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area can spend that much on snow removal for a single snowstorm. $25 million is a trivial amount of money when measured against Toronto’s $11.12 billion (with a B!) annual budget. This is not about money. This has never been about the money. This is about Doug Ford using the office of Premier to punish people he thinks have wronged him.
And now, it’s increasingly clear, it’s about Doug Ford’s control of the Ontario PC party. This is a loyalty test. He’s trying to determine whether his control of the notoriously fractious PC party is strong enough, and whether his base will support such extreme moves. And I’m sorry to say it looks like Doug Ford is winning on both those fronts. Despite his public assurances that it was a “free vote”, not a single Conservative MPP opposed invoking the Notwithstanding Clause in the vote on Wednesday. Not one. Judging by the online glee and gloating from the Ford Nation types, Ford’s base loves the way he’s sticking it to the “downtown liberal elites.”
(As near as I can tell, “downtown liberal elites” is coded conservative language for “homos, hippies, brown people, immigrants, anyone with a better education than us, people who know what kombucha is and other progressive scum who disagree with our agenda of funneling public money into the pockets of the rich.”)
Doug Ford is riding high right now. He’s got what he wanted, which is revenge on Toronto city council. He’s got a party either too weak or too afraid to stand up to him. He’s got a base of enthusiastic supporters who’re queuing up with ideas for the next nuclear strike on Canadian law.
Because Doug Ford has already announced planning on using Section 33 again whenever he feels its necessary. Fuck law, fuck tradition, fuck the constitution. He’s going to do what he wants, when he wants it and how he wants it, and nobody can stop him.
And if you’re a progressive in this province, if you’re an LGBTQ person or even if you just like having breathable air, then that’s a very frightening thing. Ford himself clearly has no morality or conscience and he owes favours to people who don’t particularly care about fair play. The religious fundamentalists who support Ford are already demanding he start ponying up “religious freedom” legislation (aka “anti-LGBTQ” laws) that will absolutely require Section 33 in order to be passed; the alt-right are pushing for anti-immigration legislation (read “keep the brown people out” laws) that will require overriding the Charter; there’s a lot of real estate developers in the GTA that want those pesky greenbelt laws overturned so they can harvest the timber and pave over the fields and charge everyone for clean drinking water trucked in from less polluted municipalities; and of course Ford is already careening toward a showdown with the big unions that will require so-called “right to work” legislation (aka “union busting” laws) to win, which are unconstitutional… and now Ford sees a way around that problem.
Doug Ford promised a government “for the People.” That was his campaign slogan: FORD For The People. It was one of the many lies he told during his campaign. Doug Ford is a very nasty politician beholden to some very nasty interests – and he doesn’t care. And why would he? Paying his political debts will only require hurting queers and immigrants and environmentalists and unions… people who don’t vote for him anyway. People who actively oppose him.
People – it’s becoming increasingly clear – who aren’t really people to him.
Let’s hope there’s enough of us to resist Ford’s anti-People agenda for the next four years… and let’s hope we all show up and vote during the next election.