Misuse of constitutional clause is just plain wrong

Greg Nikkel


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Ontario Premier Doug Ford may end up precipitating a constitutional crisis, all because of his peculiar insistence on forcing the City of Toronto to reduce the size of its council, in a municipal election year.

A judge sided with a challenge from Toronto of the province’s right to arbitrarily slice the size of the council almost in half, so Premier Ford in turn stated he wants to use the “notwithstanding” clause from the Canadian Constitution, and override the court’s decision.

Many constitutional experts feel this is a wrong application of the clause, but it won’t necessarily bring a constitutional crisis. However, the federal government does hold the hammer in the situation as they could act against Ford’s government, and this likely would provoke a constitutional crisis.

Does any of this matter to residents of Saskatchewan? Will we be affected in any way?

We might be, but this depends on just how far Premier Ford and the federal government fight over this.

What really is the issue for the Ontario premier? Ostensibly, he claims this will save a lot of money by reducing the size of government, but as a former member of that council who lost out to the current mayor in the mayoral race, there are thoughts that Ford is doing nothing more than exacting a little political revenge by using the hammer he now possesses as the premier of the province.

One of the issues that the other provinces (including Saskatchewan) will be watching is how much power should the province have over how a municipal government operates?

The council of any given town or city is elected by their local residents, and are therefore directly accountable to them. Really, the province has no logical reason to be involved at all, except in how that municipality applies provincially-set legislation, such as in land use, or how the environment is affected, or in respect to any other laws that govern municipalities.

It is up to the municipalities themselves to operate and provide the services and facilities that their residents require. The province has plenty on its plate in administering all of the departments and services as it is, without trying to micro-manage how one city runs. This issue is simply not that big a thing for the government to enact the “notwithstanding” clause, which every single government official will point out should only be used very sparingly, in very very exceptional cases.

One of the architects of that clause, former PM Brian Mulroney, said he opposed it at the time, and he still does today, for the reason that it ought never be used by a government to override a court decision. This is one case when his voice should be listened to.

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