Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday July 20, 2023
Ford Government’s Shameful Revival of Patronage Politics: The King’s Counsel Controversy
In yet another display of cronyism and political favouritism, the Ford government has quietly reinstated the honorary title of “King’s Counsel” and shamelessly bestowed it upon numerous lawyers closely associated with the Tory politicians and staffers. This move reeks of patronage politics, eroding public trust in the government and undermining the integrity of the legal profession.
The timing of this announcement is telling, as the press release was conveniently issued late on a Friday afternoon, just before the Canada Day long weekend. Clearly, the government was aware that such a controversial decision deserved close scrutiny and hoped to avoid public backlash. The hasty and surreptitious manner in which this was done further emphasizes that the Ford government is well aware of the ethical implications of their actions.
The 91 appointees to the King’s Counsel title include not only individuals with close ties to the Ford family, but also prominent figures within the Progressive Conservative party. The list comprises influential figures like Gavin Tighe, Ford’s longtime family lawyer, Blair McCreadie, former party president, Christine Elliott, former deputy premier and health minister, and former federal Conservative ministers Peter Van Loan and Rob Nicholson. Moreover, cabinet ministers Doug Downey and Caroline Mulroney also received the title, raising suspicions of their appointments being politically motivated.
The King’s Counsel designation, which is found in many Commonwealth jurisdictions, was historically meant to honour lawyers who demonstrated exceptional commitment to the pursuit of legal excellence in service to the Crown, the public, and their communities. However, these recent appointments have transformed the title into nothing more than a tool for rewarding political allies. This blatant misuse has demeaned the profession and tarnished the legacy of what was once a prestigious recognition of legal expertise.
It is crucial to consider the absence of a transparent selection process for these appointments. No public call for nominations was made, and there was no information regarding specific criteria or the appointment process prior to the press release. By bypassing consultation with major legal organizations, the Ford government further isolates these decisions from objective scrutiny and accountability.
While some may argue that the King’s Counsel title comes with no substantial privileges beyond the use of initials “K.C.” and a special silk robe, the real harm lies in the erosion of public trust and confidence in the legal system. The blatant disregard for transparency and fairness demonstrates that these appointments are not based on merit but on political connections.
Ontario had abandoned the King’s Counsel practice in the 1980s, recognizing it as a vehicle for patronage. The Ford government’s decision to resurrect this controversial title is a significant step backward and raises questions about their commitment to ethical governance.
It is vital for any government to demonstrate integrity, accountability, and transparency in its actions, especially when dealing with public appointments. The secretive reinstatement of the King’s Counsel title undermines these principles and perpetuates the perception that political connections matter more than competence and merit.
To restore public faith in the government and protect the integrity of the legal profession, the Ford government must rethink its decision and adopt a fair and transparent process for future appointments. Political favouritism has no place in the judicial system, and Ontarians deserve better than to witness the reincarnation of patronage politics in the 21st century. (AI)