Déjà vu in Ontario with “Donald” Ford, Conservative Premier

Sandy Lake, Ontario       Finally at the end of the day with the dinner bell ahead of the ACORN Canada staff at the management and new staff training, Judy Duncan, the head organizer, directed all of us to the next item: “Ontario campaigns ‘fight back’ – what is possible?”  Here we were almost two years after the Trump upset and triumph in the US, where we are still reeling every day, and I was suddenly listening to déjà vu all over again, as the Canadian crew detailed the shellshock of a new conservative premier, Doug Ford, coming to power and sweeping away what the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) had cobbled together in recent years.  Too many times it sounded like Doug Ford wanted to be called Donald north of the border.

Sure, there were some warnings.  The post-election reports had forecast that he would try to figure out a way to scale back to smaller government and claim to be looking at the books.  The rising cost of electricity or hydro, as it is called here, had been a tone-deaf and witless move by the former premier, so heads had to fall and few would fault him.  On the other hand, rewriting sex education in the schools and trying to pull back from cap-and-trade carbon arrangements to protect the climate, seemed almost un-Canadian for the tolerant and forward thinking country in the north.

But, then the deluge.  Now, it appears the steady movement to $15 per hour minimum wage in Ontario is likely dead-on-arrival.  Pulling back on cap-and-trade didn’t have a ripple effect, but was a tsunami washing over lower income families that ACORN represented.  Several hundred million had been committed in retrofits for social housing.  Gone.  One organizer told about a playground project at a local school where parents and others had raised money years that was scheduled to finally be built this fall that was suddenly scrapped when the money from cap-and-trade coming from the provincial government to support school projects was also gone.

Then there were more surprises coming from right field.  The day before police review legislation was to go into effect, he had it suspended.  He wanted to cut the size of the Toronto city council suddenly which was something never mentioned during his campaign.  Ford shelved laws passed to restrict vaping, which even the Trump administration is moving to curtail among young people.  He pushed back laws that would have cracked down on ticket scalping.  What the frick?!?

Taking another tragic page from the Trump playbook he also embraced racism.  He scrapped a separate minister for indigenous affairs and of course kicked the hornets’ nest there.  Amazingly, he appointed a cabinet of mostly white men.  Who does that?  I mean aside from Donald Trump.

You get the message, right?  For all the folks who claimed in 2016, that they were thinking about going to Canada to escape the Trump regime, think again if your GPS is set for Ontario.  No matter the talk about NAFTA and Canada, the “wall” is going down between Trump’s America and Ford’s Canada, and it’s going to be as ugly in that part of the north, as it is in the south, just on a slight time delay.

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Toronto Elections Goes Canada Crazy, Notwithstanding

Woodhaven, Ontario       In Paraguay the frame of reference was constantly back to the end of the dictatorship thirty years ago and the process of rebuilding civil society, institutions, and a democratic tradition in their country.  Suddenly in Canada for the annual fall organizer training sessions and management meetings for ACORN Canada, I found myself trying to unravel the wildness of the Toronto election crisis precipitated by new, rightwing populist Trump-wannabe Ontario Premier and former one-term Toronto city councilor, Doug Ford, against a frame of reference that seemed more common to Paraguay’s history than that of Canada’s.

What’s going on here?  City council elections were set in Toronto since the spring in the city’s 47 districts.  Candidates lined up, declared, and away they went.  Ford, the new Premier of Ontario, seems to have become confused about whether he was elected or enshrined to the throne, and unilaterally ordered the 47 districts cut to only 25 without so much as a never mind it seems.  Commentators, pundits and politicians seem to ascribe it mainly to old feuds from his time on the council and his late brother’s raucous ride as Mayor of Toronto.

Of course, there was legal action by the councilors and not surprising there was a judicial ruling, and this is where it really starts getting weird as Ford channels his inner-Trump to the outer extreme.  The court ruled that the move abridged the Charter of Rights and was unconstitutional.  Judge Belobaba wrote in his decision that “It appears that Bill 5 was hurriedly enacted to take effect in the middle of the city’s election without much thought at all, more out of pique than principle.”  The Toronto Star summarizing the judge’s decision added that he “blasted the province for failing to justify the cut to council, saying it submitted little evidence to support a hastily prepared argument that the legislation would result in more effective representation or that it would make council more efficient and save money.”  So, the October elections in a little more than a month were back on in 47 districts.

The court’s decision upset Ford, whose understanding of an independent judiciary seems in tune with President Trump’s.  According to the Star story, he claimed,

“I was elected. The judge was appointed. He was appointed by one person…A democratically elected government, trying to be shut down by the courts — that concerns me more than anything,” he said, adding the courts have made him feel like “I’m sitting here handcuffed, with a piece of tape over my mouth, watching what I say.”

So, he claims he’s going to fix that and overrule the Judge using the “notwithstanding” clause passed initially to prevent the secession of Quebec from Canada and only designed for extraordinary circumstances, and never used previously in Ontario though it has been employed once in Quebec, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

So, in the Canadian circus, Ford is calling the Ontario parliament into session to pass a bill to overrule the judge and is appealing Judge Belobaba’s ruling to the higher court.  It’s a US Senate kind of problem though, because Ford has the party line majority to muscle through his new bill, so no one knows what and who will really be before the voters in October so the only thing certain is that lawyers will be running in and out court.

When this whole democracy and basic democratic rights thing is not just under fire in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, India and elsewhere around the world, but in the United States and, oh my god, even Canada, we’re really in the middle of a citizen rights’ conflagration totally out of control.

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