Martin Regg Cohn: With Doug Ford in the premier's office, why bother with democracy?
Let’s take the premier at his word.
Never mind that Doug Ford never uttered a word on the campaign trail about cutting Toronto’s city council in half (and certainly nothing about halving it halfway through an election campaign).
Listen to his latest arguments, after the fact. Even if Ford does not hear or heed the other side, why not give him the courtesy of listening?
Let’s see what the takeaway is — and what it might take away from us. Consider the scenarios as the premier:
- Overrides a judge’s verdict and derides the judiciary;
- Rams through legislation after midnight while a city sleeps;
- Dismisses and diminishes the opposition;
- Counts his 2.3 million voters and discounts the remaining 11 million Ontarians;
- Vows he will override Charter protections at will.
If the self-styled “Government For the People” does all these things in its first few months in office, what does that mean for Ford’s next few years in power? If his objective, stated and restated, is efficient government and democratic accountability — even at the risk of disrupting an election and curtailing advance voting — what next?
Why bother deferring to the authority of Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, who is also unelected? After all, she is a political appointee — much like the judge he publicly condemned. Should she be unable to fulfil her duties, does the premier know that the (equally unaccountable) chief justice of Ontario fills in for her — making the premier answerable to the judiciary he keeps questioning?
Why bother going through the motions of filing legal motions in court, notably his government’s appeal of the ruling that his plan was unlawful? While there is every possibility the government will win a stay of the verdict after Tuesday’s hearing before the Court of Appeal, why seek to overturn a decision if you can routinely override it by invoking the Charter of Rights’ “notwithstanding” clause?
(By hedging its bets — appealing and overriding at the same time — the government opted for a no-lose strategy. But that only vitiates any victory it may claim on appeal, having telegraphed that it only abides by favourable rulings, and overrides unfavourable ones: Heads we win, tails you lose.)
Why bother with debates in the legislature if you can always outvote the other side? While it’s true that the opposition parties collectively won more votes than the 2.3 million Ford keeps boasting of, he won more seats — fair and square — and it’s the seat tally that counts. Why not settle another score by reducing the legislature to a human scorecard, where MPPs’ votes are tallied up but their voices tuned out?
Why bother with the traditional funding of opposition parties for legislative research, enjoyed by the Tories for so many years before they won power? Why not revoke subsidies of the NDP opposition, and perhaps reallocate yet more to the premier’s personal news service, Ontario News Now, which tweets out positive coverage of his efficient governance on the taxpayers’ dime?
Why bother with our parliamentary system of cabinet government in an era where the premier wields virtually total control over his obedient, obsequious ministers? Why bother with free votes if Ford makes a mockery of them — publicly daring his MPPs to vote their conscience, knowing full well they will fall into line behind him, with nary a single dissenter? Not even ex-PM Stephen Harper, a ferocious disciplinarian, cowed his Conservative caucus with such efficacy on Parliament Hill.
Why bother with the unelected media? What right have they to question the premier (notwithstanding protections in the Charter of Rights on “freedom of the press and other media of communication”)? Ford displayed his attitude by deploying paid government staffers to news conferences where, until recently, they cheered and clapped wildly to drown out annoying followup questions from reporters who dared to ask more than the maximum of five questions dictated by his handlers.
Why bother with the checks and balances of our democratic system — with the separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary, not to mention civic society and a free media — if the premier can do it all, decide on his own, bend everyone to his will? After all, Ford boasts that he talks to thousands of people all the time — here, there, everywhere. He answers texts from ordinary folks on his BlackBerry, solving problems single-handedly. He convenes midnight sessions of the Legislature to rush through a bill that invalidates a court ruling — before ordinary citizens even wake up.
Now, the man is woke. One man, 2.3 million votes.
For everyone else, a wake-up call. Take the premier at his word?
Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn
- Report an error
- Journalistic Standards
- About Us