The Sunday Edition

Michael's essay: Canadians love nothing more than a good old-fashioned constitutional crisis

“Members of the National Association of Explainers, mostly academics, adore constitutional crises, because it gives them a chance to parlay their stuffy credentials into 15 minutes — or even a minute thirty — of national exposure.”
After Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his plan to invoke the notwithstanding clause in order push forward with his plans to reduce the size of Toronto's city council, 'all [political] hell broke loose.' (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
Listen4:10

Canadians love nothing more than a good old-fashioned constitutional crisis that pits Ottawa against the provinces.

Politicians love them because they get to say things like "the voice of the people," "rights and freedoms,'' and "our sacred democracy.''

We haven't had a bone-crushing constitutional fight in decades.- Michael Enright

Reporters love them, because tension, conflict and bad temper — leading perhaps to an outburst of name-calling — are bread and butter in journalism.

Members of the National Association of Explainers, mostly academics, adore constitutional crises because they get the opportunity to parade their credentials into 15 minutes, or more likely a minute thirty, of national exposure.

We haven't had a bone-crushing constitutional fight in decades. People not alive in those great days, cry out for understanding. 

Little ones chirp: "Grandpa what did you do in the Meech Lake Wars?"
And: "Please please tell us more about the Charlottetown Accord."

But now, thanks to the Ontario government, Canadians are back in the mosh pit of constitutional paranoia and nail-biting. We will all get a chance to argue about what notwithstanding really means.

The governors of the city were flabbergasted. They forgot that Doug Ford is about as subtle as Sonny Corleone.- Michael Enright

Premier Doug Ford, a giant in the decals, labels and tags industry, touched off the current flare-up when he got down and serious about his hatred for Toronto and all its evils.

A one-time losing candidate for mayor, Premier Ford, in what many called a fit of personal pique, decided to reduce the size of the city's councillors from 47 to 25.

The thing is, he didn't campaign on the issue and he didn't tell anybody at city council about it until his big announcement.

And he did it in the middle of municipal election campaigns.

The governors of the city were flabbergasted. They forgot that Doug Ford is about as subtle as Sonny Corleone.
When a judge ruled the government's action was unconstitutional, Premier Ford went nuclear.

He triggered the constitutional override, the notwithstanding clause, Sec. 33, which in effect erased the judge's ruling.

Section 33 was put into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by Pierre Trudeau in order to get the western provinces to sign on to repatriation of the Constitution. 

All hell broke loose last week in the provincial legislature. 

Ford was called a dictator. Even Conservative icons like Brian Mulroney and the sainted former Ontario premier Bill Davis said Ford was undermining the rule of law.

Said former premier Bob Rae: "It changes the legal and political culture of the country overnight."

Ironically, Mulroney's daughter is Ontario's Attorney General. And she supports her premier.

Premier Ford has said he will use Section 33 anytime he feels it necessary. Translated, "If I don't get what I want, I'll push the red button again."

He seems to want to treat the notwithstanding clause as just one more personal power tool.

And he has got his acolytes talking about "a cabal of unelected judges." Ford's favourite newspaper, The Toronto Sun, screamed "Ford Had No Choice."

Which of course is nonsense. The city clerk now says it is virtually impossible to stage a fair election next month.

What Premier Ford has done in Ontario is unprecedented but perfectly legal.

The danger is that provincial premiers might begin using Section 33 as a way to get what they want and to hell with the courts.

If that happens, we'll have a real constitutional crisis to talk about.

Click 'listen' above to hear the essay. 

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