DM Blog

Doug Ford’s Affront to Democracy

Late in the night last Thursday, the moment I heard on the news that Premier Doug Ford intended to introduce legislation to slash the number of seats on Toronto City Council from 47 down to 25, I feared right away that people might focus on the wrong thing. And sure enough, in the hours that followed, most of the debate I saw on Twitter and in the news was about whether or not it was a good idea to reduce the number of city councillors. The much more important issue is the timing and how Premier Ford is going about it.

I’ve heard political pundits suggest that perhaps this is all just an attempt to deflect attention from the fact that Doug Ford also intends to reverse the Liberal’s plan to monopolize marijuana sales and instead wants to allow private retailers to apply for licenses. That deflection could be true depending on the details of what they’re proposing, but I also think that sometimes we look too hard for what is already in our face, right under our noses. I think Doug Ford and the Conservatives knew that they could end up getting away with blatantly disrupting our democracy like this, because people would focus on what the changes would be, rather than how they’re being imposed.

Even if the end result is the same, how we arrive at the result is extremely important.

Democracy is not easy. It can often be a long and difficult process, at times even expensive, but the process does matter. The rights and freedoms that we all enjoy as Canadians are a product of this process, a product of democracy. We cannot let anyone dismiss our Canadian values so carelessly and irresponsibly, especially someone in a position of power. The fact that the Premier of Ontario is attempting to retroactively change the rules of an election, in the middle of the election, should be very troubling to all Canadians.

Indeed, here’s Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s comments, via The Globe And Mail:

For you to say to those folks who put their lives on hold only because they want to do public service, By the way, the job you’re running for doesn’t exist any more — that’s unconscionable, Naheed Nenshi said.

That is a direct affront on democracy. That is tinpot dictator stuff.

Nenshi said Toronto city council may have its problems. But changing the rules on nomination day — especially when Ford made no mention of it during his own recent election campaign — is the wrong way to address them.

You don’t do that on nomination day. You don’t do that after you’ve just run an election in which you’ve never mentioned this.

[…] Nenshi urged Toronto Mayor John Tory to fight the proposed legislation, because it could ultimately affect all Canadian mayors.

I would strongly suggest and support Mayor Tory in saying we’ve got to find a legal answer to what the limits of provincial authority are here.

It’s not just for Toronto. It’s for all of us.

How would people have reacted if, during the last provincial election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Quebec and Ontario would be merging into one province in order to save money? While the provincial elections were already underway? Mayor Nenshi is right — if passed, this sets a terrible precedent for all of Canada. We can’t take our electoral process for granted and we can’t allow anyone to interfere with our elections. This is what our soldiers fight and die for!

Toronto City Hall is by no means perfect and there is definitely room for improvement. It’s also no secret that Mayor Tory is in favour of having a smaller council and strong-mayor form of government. So it would seem counter to his own interests as mayor for him to oppose this move by Premier Ford, but for the sake of all Canadians, he absolutely must. In fact, even just for the sake of Toronto and for his ability to get anything done as mayor under Doug Ford’s premiership, he needs to fight this vigourously.

When Premier Kathleen Wynne flip-flopped and rejected Toronto’s proposed road tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, John Tory had said that he was tired of being treated like a little boy going up to Queen’s Park in short pants. For some people, that was the first time they realized just how little power our mayor has[1], and how dependent the city is on the province to do just about anything. So if Doug Ford gets away with forcefully imposing his will on Toronto in this manner, mid-way through the election, without consultation and without even so much as informing the City Clerk’s office in advance, then Toronto can expect much more of it over the next four years. Mayor Tory needs to put his foot down and, together with a strong and united city council, unanimously fight for democracy while insisting that this is not the way we will continue for the next four years.

When you consider the gravity of the situation — never before have we had interference like this in the middle of our elections in Canada — you can see that asking for a referendum is not a strong enough response. The issue of the size of Toronto City Council and it’s effectiveness, or lack thereof[2], can wait. We can’t miss the forest for the trees — how this is being done is a blatant affront to democracy.