Chris Selley: Ford could soon make notwithstanding clause drama seem like a honeymoon

Chris Selley: Ford could soon make notwithstanding clause drama seem like a honeymoon

In the future, a Liberal or NDP government can just give Toronto City Council more power. Some of Ford’s other ideas might prove far more difficult to overturn

September 13, 2018
12:14 AM EDT

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Share this storyChris Selley: Ford could soon make notwithstanding clause drama seem like a honeymoon

The strongest case for not worrying too much about the Ontario government’s Section 33 grenade, lobbed Monday into Toronto’s already war-torn municipal election campaign, is that it’s probably a moot point. For better or worse, the government has decided to slash Toronto city council in half. It can almost certainly get that through the courts in time for the next election, in 2022; Justice Edward Belobaba’s ruling quashing Bill 5, the legislation in question, will probably be overturned on appeal anyway. So we might as well get it over with for 2018.

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney gamely made that case to reporters Wednesday after question period, hours before the government reintroduced Bill 5 (now Bill 31) with the notwithstanding clause attached. She was poised, articulate and calm.

“We believe it was wrongly decided, and so we’re appealing that case,” she said. “And because time is of the essence — there is an election in the City of Toronto in a few short weeks — we have decided to use a legal tool that is available to the legislature.”

Time is only of the essence because Premier Doug Ford decided it should be, of course. But here was a sane, civilized explanation for a dodgy decision, made in the place where dozens of ministers before her have explained their governments’ dodgy decisions.

None of those ministers had to deal with the Doug Ford Show, though. In question period, asked by Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath if he thought there should be any checks on his power, Ford all but confirmed this is part of a personal vendetta against left-wing city councillors.

“The leader of the NDP is here to protect her crony buddies (on city council): Mike Layton, Joe Cressy, Gord Perks,” Ford sneered. He said it twice, adding Paula Fletcher’s name to the list on second reference.

Here, probably, is a better reason not to get too stressed about the notwithstanding clause. As controversial and unnecessary as it is, and despite Wednesday’s melodrama — protesters were forcibly removed from the public galleries; a majority of NDP MPPs banged their desks at the bill’s introduction until they were booted — in two years we might look back on this day like a honeymoon in the Maldives.

In the future, a Liberal or NDP government can just go ahead and give city council more power — including the power to set its own complement. Some of Ford’s other ideas might prove far more difficult to overturn.

Ford is partisanship in the raw, devoid of the Mulroney-esque niceties

Let’s stay in Ford’s beloved Toronto: Should we trust a premier so obsessed with his former job as to bust up an election with just weeks to go before voting day to, say, upload and manage Toronto’s $2 billion-per-annum transit system in a coherent and defensible fashion that would be, he promises, “nothing but a benefit”?

Folks, no we should not. In addition to their labels and tags concern, the Ford family runs a breeding centre for white elephant transit projects. Ford has never met a subway he didn’t love, no matter how sparse the population atop it, or a perfectly serviceable piece of surface rail he didn’t hate, no matter how empirically compelling the service it could provide.

And while it’s reasonable to hope his caucus might balk at spending gazillions on subways to nowhere — hardly a vote-winner in the hinterlands — in the meantime there is a more basic threat to the body politic. Ford is partisanship in the raw, devoid of the Mulroney-esque niceties and utterly immune to cognitive dissonance. Few if any like him rise to the top, but every party’s base has its share of these people, and he can only embolden them.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford looks into the chamber during an interruption by hecklers during the morning session in the legislature at Queen’s Park in Toronto, Sept. 12, 2018. Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia

If Ford were running for mayor of Toronto and Kathleen Wynne had pulled a stunt like this, he’d be hollering bloody murder. Ford claims a near-absolute right to pursue his agenda subject to censure only from voters, even as he challenges the federal Liberals’ carbon tax in court. On Monday Ford personally attacked Belobaba as an appointee of Dalton McGuinty. Superior Court justices are federally appointed. But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear him say it again. This week an anonymous Conservative source told the Toronto Star the party was considering contrasting Ford’s decisiveness with Justin Trudeau’s refusal to use the notwithstanding clause to protect the Trans Mountain Pipeline project.

Trans Mountain wasn’t a charter decision; the notwithstanding clause doesn’t apply. But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear him say it anyway.

In this brand of politics, truth and hypocrisy are beside the point. Everyone lies, everyone’s a hypocrite, so who cares? Every misdeed of your party, if acknowledged, is offset by a misdeed of the others. Whataboutism becomes the only form of debate, and even more literally than in the past, victory becomes the only goal.

We’re not there yet. Ontario politics is in a flat spin, but it can recover. With the Fords’ departure, Toronto city council downshifted from Lord of the Flies mode to its previously unacceptable level of indecorum; and Ford never had a cabinet at city hall to keep happy.

The thing about flat spins, though, is you have to dive before you can recover. The fasten seat belt sign is flashing. The flight attendants look worried. Air sickness bags are $5.

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