Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday November 8, 2022
Doug Ford uses a big principle for small politics
There is no real substantive reason why the Premier of Ontario can’t testify before the inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act, but, as a Federal Court judge has ruled, he has a “lawful excuse.”
Doug Ford has found that he can indeed use an important, constitutionally entrenched principle to serve small political goals.
Mr. Ford and his Deputy Premier, Sylvia Jones, had claimed parliamentary privilege, the venerable precept that ensures the work of legislatures isn’t sidetracked by lawsuits and legal proceedings, to avoid a day of testimony this Thursday – on a day when the Ontario legislature isn’t even sitting.
He has won in court, so now he won’t have to explain why he felt Ontario’s policing laws, and Ontario’s police, weren’t enough to handle February’s truckers’ convoy protests and blockades of border crossings and city streets, or testify about those events, which took place mostly in his province.
Justice Simon Fothergill’s ruling made clear that Mr. Ford won in court because parliamentary privilege protects MPPs from having to testify before courts and inquiries – whether or not testifying would actually impede the work of the Premier, or the legislature.
In the end, Justice Fothergill acknowledged the breadth of parliamentary privilege. It isn’t some tiny technicality. It’s a principle of parliamentary independence from the courts that comes from Westminster and is entrenched in Canada’s Constitution.
But the key issue is still that Mr. Ford and Ms. Jones didn’t have to hide behind that privilege. Parliamentarians often waive it. The Premier used this big principle as a legal loophole to protect himself.
If you’re keeping score, you might notice that Mr. Ford has made a habit of invoking big constitutionally recognized mechanisms to deal with political challenges. He pre-emptively invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights in back-to-work legislation for support workers in Ontario schools. He backtracked on that Monday. Just because you can invoke big principles to further small politics, it doesn’t mean you should.
It is true, as Mr. Ford has argued, that the Emergencies Act inquiry revolves around a federal government decision. What’s at issue is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke the act on Feb. 14 to respond to the convoy protests. That legislation,
which allowed the authorities to employ extraordinary powers including freezing bank accounts, is only to be used when no other law will do. The inquiry must determine whether that threshold was met.
But to get there, the commission has to figure out whether normal policing – under the jurisdiction of the province – should have been enough. Mr. Ford felt it wasn’t. (The Globe & Mail)