LORINC: The notwithstanding chaos of Doug Ford

Pardon my language, but what a fucking mess.

Over the weekend, I was trying to develop a column examining why this municipal race – the seventh I’ve covered as an urban affairs writer – has, to borrow from the language of early child development, failed to thrive.

We’re now well past Labour Day, the unofficial start of the sprint-to-the-finish phase, and there have been no mayoral debates, just one poll, and scant voter engagement (to my eye). Jennifer Keesmaat and John Tory have launched a handful of policy plans, taken a few shots at one another, held modest rallies. In some ward races, a few interesting challengers have surfaced – e.g. Tiffany Ford trying to take down the clown known as Mammoliti. In others, it’s mostly prurient and confused speculation about who’s running where, against whom, and why. Overall, a low-energy, muddled affair.

Of course, one need look no further for an explanation than the suffocating impact of Bill 5 and its chaotic aftermath – the city’s tentative response, the electrifying hearing on a long weekend Friday, and yesterday’s Wagnerian clash that concluded with the premier of Canada’s wealthiest province reaching for the constitutional nuclear codes to achieve god only knows what in his quest for blah blah blah.

The drama is as riveting as a massive car accident, and even the most disciplined rationalist can’t help but gawk in awe. After all, when inter-governmental relations has been transformed into a bloody bout of mixed martial arts, municipal electioneering — with its earnest debates about speed limits and transit lines and different approaches for developing affordable housing — has zero chance.

This muzzling effect was precisely the point Justice Edward Belobaba was warning of in his extraordinary ruling. Behind all the rarified legal language about the Charter and the Saskatchewan reference and the division of powers, the reality is that Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has chosen to drown out the sound of a city talking to itself about the issues the city needs to tackle.

It is by no means a coincidence that this is the gang who weaponized all those political staffers to clap loudly over reporters’ questions during press conferences. What a very long and sorry journey Ontario’s Tories have traveled since the progressive-minded city-building era of Bill Davis.

The question hanging densely over this shameful shit-show remains unchanged from the day Premier Doug Ford revealed his intention to slash the size of council: Why now? Why the rush?

There was absolutely nothing to stop him from introducing the very same piece of legislation on October 23, the day after the municipal election, and sending a clear signal that 2018-2022 would mark the final term with a council of 47 elected officials. He could have made precisely the same claims about inefficiency. And the controversy would have been just as front-end loaded, save a few months.

Yet such a move would also have been judgment-proof — the provincial government exercising its jursidctional rights under section 92 of the constitution, end of story.

Instead, Ford & Co. has torched the party’s reputation in large swaths of the city by suspending the Charter-protected fundamental rights of voters and candidates to express themselves. They’ve scared the crap out of every municipal council in the province, if not the country. And that distant but fast-approaching roar you hear is the looming campaign to advocate for home rule and city charters – a message track I fully expect to come from some high profile Liberals in Ontario, who will now do everything in their power to conflate Ford and the hapless Andrew Scheer in 2019.

So much political capital spent, so little return on investment. After all, the province’s budget won’t become one cent smaller because of this legislation (Ford’s absurdist claims to the contrary). Council sessions won’t be any shorter. And the cabinet table, one’s got to think, can’t be a very happy place today, given the fact that there are enough experienced people in that group who may have been wondering (to themselves) what the hell the premier and his advisers were thinking by invoking the notwithstanding clause for the first time in Ontario history.

As for Toronto’s election, I almost feel like we may as well just call it off. Ford’s intrusion and the respective candidates’ response or lack thereof will so dominate the campaign, which raises the likelihood that nothing substantive relating to life in the city is going to get fleshed out or debated with any kind of resolution.

Two weeks ago, on the day of her big transit platform reveal, I spoke with Jennifer Keesmaat about her campaign and asked how she planned to pay for all the promises on her maps. What about revenue tools? She hedged, promising that the answer will come later in the campaign but also noting that as mayor, she doesn’t want to make living in the city any more expensive (an answer, I dare say, we’ve all heard far too many times).

Keesmaat is a serious candidate with a serious and mainly progressive platform, and I expect her to come out with something. But will the election feature meaningful discussion about how the city plans to pay for new transit and new housing, etc?

Of course not. In fact, I fully anticipate that if so much as a whisper of conversation about new revenue tools surfaces, Ford — like an attention-seeking five-year-old — will wade back in to the thick of things and throw a tantrum, pledging to remove City of Toronto Act powers to levy other forms of taxation.

Or what about the subway? Will we have a robust debate among the candidates about what conditions – financial, operational, programmatic — should be demanded from the province if the subway is uploaded?

As before: Don’t hold your breath. Keesmaat has said she’ll insist the city should have the ability to determine new transit routes. But Ford’s willingness to use a water cannon to extinguish a birthday candle offers a foreshadowing of the chill and intrusions to come. He won’t engage; he’ll threaten and deploy the same sort of leverage politics practiced so ruthlessly by the world’s biggest populist bully.

Again, one must come back to the warnings articulated by Justice Belobaba. The province’s legislative intervention did not merely inject “unprecedented” administrative and procedural chaos into democracy’s most important rite; Bill 5 and its successor –the new version, fitted out with a notwithstanding clause provision, is expected to be tabled tomorrow — will have the effect of silencing the views Ford does not like and casting a chilly pall over the necessary conversations Torontonians need to have with themselves.

“How,” as Belobaba wondered pointedly, “could it not?”

How indeed.

7 comments

  1. This is brilliant. What can we do as citizens? Is there a leader to follow and support who can galvanize protest? I keep looking but no one has risen to the occasion.

  2. Doug the Thug has shown his true colours. Contempt for anything and anyone that dares go against his peabrain. He is so ignorant, and I mean that in every sense of the word, he does not even know that the judge who ruled against him is a SUPERIOR court judge. As in Superior to a premier. A federally appointed judge out ranks an elected provincial politician any day.

    I understand Ford does not like being compared to Trump. Then he should stop acting like Trump North!

  3. Yup, a Fordking mess, and yet, just today, another lawsuit launched, so it may well still implode, as it cannot be sitting well with some of the MPPs/Conservatives. As for the haste, I wonder if screwing up the TTC and subways is part of the push. In the inter-regnum between now and top of the year and start of the new Council/Clowncil, there’s a relative vacuum so that theft and dismemberment of the TTC cannot be so directly resisted while it’s happening as TTC Commission isn’t meeting/active, and neither is the Council, though it should be classified as yet another emergency. Toronto has the only subway system in the province, and that may explain our special treatment to enable the selling off or mortgaging of the profitable parts of the subway to expand it in to sprawl, which will be done with the public dollars of course. It’s NOT going to be about saving any peanut$ of salaries; if there was any real interest in saving tax dollars we’d have backed away from the Suspect Subway Extension in Scarborough, which would require knowing the difference between million$ and billion$. And hey, if money was an issue, we’d be having far more user pay for the car, eg. a Vehicle Registration Tax, a real reason for an autocrat to meddle in an election.

  4. And as we see in coverage from CBC and the Ottawa Citizen, the city of Ottawa is next in line. It could be days or months, but Ford is already making noises about being encouraged to do it to Bytown as well.

    As many of us living outside Toronto had to know would happen. None of the rest of us are safe either.

  5. Doug’s premiership will be determined on the ability to get a good deal in NAFTA. That should be the first thing he thinks of in the morning and the last thing at bedtime. Throughout the night he should have recurring nightmares of auto tariffs and layoffs of 10,000’s, if not 100,000’s of Ontario workers.

    So he moves to 25 councillors – so what? Each will need to split the ward and have two powerful asst councillors to deal with the volume of development and all that requires. Hmm we will have moved from 47 councillors to 25 councillors and 50 asst councillors. There is no $25 million to be saved.

  6. A, ahem, Premier who campaigned on cost reduction and reducing government waste begins to ramp up costs and waste government time and money by playing dictator. What could go wrong here? Take ego out of the equation what remains of the Albino Ham???

  7. I’d missed this gem from a place where sometimes you can trust the math:
    https://www.fraserinstitute.org/blogs/toronto-city-council-reduction-a-distraction-from-greater-priorities
    and savings amount to about a cup of coffee a year, and so yes, it’s not about the money, but Toronto has a subway system. The penny is dropping for me and others that it’s not just about the theft of the core system (please take Sheppard and the extension N of York U), but also about the air rights at the stations, though we need a devilopment freeze, not more crowdings based on proximity to transit. So the TTC is defenceless in this inter-regnum period; not that they’re always atop things anyway eg. OK to extend Yonge north to Richmond Hill vs. regional service from GO. Yup, a Fordking mess, and can shitizens organize and fund legal defence of the subway as no, the City/TTC is likely unable, and perhaps unwilling, to move fast enough.

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