How Rob Ford made progressives cruel
The extreme example goes something like this: Were the supreme court to legalize, say, child pornography on the grounds of free speech—a ruling that, while perhaps constitutionally sound, would be politically untenable and morally abhorrent—parliament or provincial legislatures could nuke the judgment by employing Section 33. It’s a tricky piece of political technology, a sinkhole in the middle of democracy, which is why it’s only ever been invoked on three occasions, all of which concerned situations that bore no serious or wider implications for the rule of law.
Ford’s “notwithstanding” crisis kicked off several months ago, smack in the middle of Toronto’s municipal-election campaign. Shortly after becoming the premier of Ontario last June, Ford introduced a bill that proposed reducing the size of Toronto’s city council from 47 seats to 25, throwing the elections into disarray. The city balked, the issue went before the Ontario Superior Court, and a justice ruled that Ford’s gambit violated Toronto voters’ right to freedom of expression.
The justice’s ruling, according to a number of legal interpretations, was badly botched. But instead of restricting his response to filing an appeal, Ford also went for the notwithstanding clause. “He’s the judge; I’m the premier,” Ford said. “I was elected; he was appointed.” The premier then introduced a revised bill that included the notwithstanding clause, meaning that the provincial legislature would be compelled to vote on whether or not to employ the loophole should an appeal fail. (Ford’s Progressive Conservative party enjoys a majority in the provincial legislature, and would likely have voted along party lines.) The premier’s actions have articulated long-standing conservative grievances with judicial overreach; Canadian right-wingers are over the moon.
Americans may find all this eminently familiar: Both Ford brothers have identified as Donald Trump fans, with Doug Ford recently insisting that, “I wouldn’t waver. The GOP is wavering; I wouldn’t waver.” And there is certainly much of The Donald in Ford’s political bluster (although given the Canadian brothers’ extensive legacy, there is a chicken-and-egg dilemma concerning who battle-tested this recent round of North American populism).
The ‘Trump effect’ on Canada’s classrooms
Not so long ago, however, it was unthinkable that someone like Doug Ford would have the power to toy with fundamental issues of Canadian jurisprudence. His rise was a family affair, properly beginning in 2009, when Rob Ford, a long-serving Toronto city councillor, decided to run for mayor. Pundits laughed Ford off—The Globe and Mail once ran a column that described him as “fat” 17 times—yet he cobbled together a constituency that was far removed from the downtown-liberal feedback loop. In 1998, Toronto had undergone a process of amalgamation that fused the left-leaning city with the right-leaning suburbs, resulting in an ungainly, traffic-bound metropolis of mixed ideological outlook. Toronto swung right, then left, and then came Rob Ford—for whom there was no Canadian antecedent, and no political antidote.