Democracy is on the wane in Ontario.
Yet this isn’t just another Doug Ford powerplant. The Prime Minister has done many reckless things in power, but this time he is not acting alone.
As tempting as it is to demonize him, Ford is simply doing the devil’s job – and the devil is in the sordid details dictated to him from City Hall. Today, he is not so much a dictator as an enabler of Mayor John Tory’s anti-democratic ambitions.
By giving him unprecedented and unprincipled power, Ford has transformed Tory from a mere strong-willed mayor to suddenly an unstoppable powerhouse. By doing Tory’s bidding and complying with his outlandish demands, Ford has shown himself to be not just amazingly unintelligent, but also surprisingly weak.
In a normal democracy, the mayor, prime minister, prime minister, president or incumbent must receive the votes of a majority of the legislature. Representative democracy is not a one-man band, a one-woman act, or a one-man show.
Except in Toronto, Ontario.
Here, Tory and the Ford tag team have joined hands to outdo—and understate.
On certain issues that fit Ford’s development agenda, a Tory could henceforth win only one-third of the council’s vote: eight to 17.
This means that if Tory loses the vote, he still wins the vote: Heads I win, tails you lose.
It wouldn’t count in a casino, but that’s how council votes in Toronto. This is a no-lose proposition for these two politicians in power, but a priceless loss for democracy.
This is a reversal of majority rule. And the perversion of the political process.
Where did Tory and Ford find that one-third threshold to carry the day? Certainly not at Queen’s Park, where Ford could never expect to win a legislative vote with a minority of lawmakers.
Why even bother with an arbitrary eight vote requirement for a Tory to win? Might as well streamline the process by adopting a one-hero, one-mayor rule to show your strength—and disband the council entirely.
Who knew that after winning three democratic elections, the mayor is not satisfied with his huge mandate and thirsts for even more power? Who would have thought Tory could convince Ford – a former political rival he humiliated in the 2014 mayoral election – to do what he demanded?
Surely a smarter prime minister could have sat down, puffed his pipe, pondered democratic principles, pondered public opinion and pushed back. Bill Davis would never have put up with this kind of chatter or condoned such arrogance when Tory was serving as a young political aide to the late Progressive Conservative prime minister decades ago.
Yet all these years later, an older and more unreasonable Tory has a tin ear.
“I think people trust me,” he says with unintentional irony, vowing never to abuse his royal power.
But if Tory so thoughtlessly believes himself to be trustworthy, does he really believe that everyone who has gone before him and everyone who will come after him deserves the same trust? Would he have supported his predecessor as mayor, the late Rob Ford, who wields the kind of power his brother handed down as prime minister?
It’s worth noting that Tory’s other predecessors have publicly denounced this odd template of minority rule, tailored for Toronto and Ottawa but destined for other major cities in the coming years. Ottawa’s newly elected mayor has publicly promised these illegal powers for good reason.
Municipal politics has always been a weak link in our democracy. Voter turnout is low and political misconduct is high.
Incumbent turnover is rare and temptations are repeated. It’s hard to rely on councilors who are captive to aggressive developers or NIMBY obstructionists.
But there are no shortcuts to democracy, only blind roads that lure us into the darkness of dictatorship. Representative democracy may be troublesome, but it cannot be reconfigured to suit a single politician who pursues his single issue with righteous impatience and false impatience.
A strange symbiosis has gripped Tory and Ford, each drawing strength from the other, causing them both to lose their bearings. Yet it is not too late for them to come together to reverse these dangerous measures to repair the damage.
The prime minister won two elections thanks to the power of the voters. This is our democracy.
It has abrogated Charter rights thanks to the “notwithstanding clause”. This is our constitution (however controversial).
However, no prime minister has ever dared to rewrite the rules of democracy. This is not our history.
Today, the mayor has created an existential crisis of democracy in our city thanks to his partner in the office of prime minister. This cannot be our future.
Tory has authored and owned it since its inception. He must now renounce and denounce it so that Ford can finally renounce it if he cannot find takers.
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