This June, Premier Doug Ford recalled the Ontario legislature for an emergency session to attempt to silence critics ahead of next year’s provincial election. Ford’s attack on free speech, the charter and his critics show how far Ford is willing to go to win.
The emergency session was not called for an urgent pandemic related issue – legislating paid sick days for workers, increasing protections for long term care, or improving the vaccination rollout. Instead, Ford was ‘going nuclear’ to fix his political problem of decreasing poll numbers.
Only a few days before, Justice Edward Morgan of the Superior Court ruled that elements of the Ford government’s Bill 254 were unconstitutional – essentially meaning that it violated the freedom of speech guarantee we as Canadians have under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Bill 254 changed the Elections Finances Act, and placed new limits on spending by third-parties months before an election is to take place. This bill was aimed squarely at silencing critics of the Ford government, including unions, parent associations, environmental groups, and others who have raised concerns about the government’s record.
Rebranded as Bill 307, Ford recalled the legislature to ram though the legislation again. However, this time they were taking the unprecedented step of invoking Section 33, the not-withstanding clause of the constitution – the so called nuclear option that allows provincial legislatures to limit certain Charter rights. Never in Ontario’s history has a government taken such an extreme and desperate step and invoked Section 33.
The Premier must be worried. And his poll numbers show why – Ford’s approval rating has dropped from 69% in May 2020, to a dismal 35% in June 2021.
It’s clear that Ontarians are fed up with Ford’s inadequate pandemic response. From the thousands who died in long-term care, to resisting protections for workers like paid sick days, to allowing and then forced to back down on random police stops to enforce pandemic protocols, to long line-ups for vaccinations – not to mention his finance minister breaching pandemic restrictions to take a Caribbean holiday.
Ford wants to silence his critics in hopes that Ontarians will forget about his mismanagement. Workers and their unions will not be silenced.
He will not keep us quiet on his cuts to planned mental health investment; taking away conservation authorities powers during one of the worst flood seasons on record; on cuts to public health funding; wasting millions on a failed and unnecessary licence plate redesign; cruelly cutting the basic income pilot program throwing thousands back into poverty with no warning; reverting back to a dated and problematic 1998 sex-education curriculum; cuts to legal aid funding; the list could go on.
There is a lot Ford hopes that workers and their families will forget, including his unprecedented restriction of our charter rights.
Ford’s knee-jerk reaction to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms is frightening. What politically inconvenient charter right will get in the way of his political aspirations next?
The Government of Canada website states that when governments use the not-withstanding clause, they must “say clearly what it is doing and accept the political consequences.” The next provincial election will be June 2, 2022 – mark the date in your calendar, and let Ford know his actions have consequences.