Alberta constitutional negotiators Merv Leitch and Peter Lougheed, said by some to be the inventors of the Notwithstanding Clause (Photo: Legal Archives Society of Alberta).

Office-holding Conservative politicians and operatives of their well-funded Astro-Turf and think tank support network across Canada have now virtually to a man and woman jumped aboard Ontario Conservative Premier Doug Ford’s runaway constitutional train, defending his use of Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ override clause to gerrymander electoral districts in Canada’s largest city after a court said he couldn’t.

Yes, a few retired Conservatives have voiced objections to Mr. Ford’s use of Section 33, the so-called Notwithstanding Clause – former prime minister Brian Mulroney, 79, and former Ontario premier Bill Davis, 89, spring to mind.

Former Ontario premier Bill Davis in his heyday (Photo: Archives of Ontario).

But support for the Ontario premier’s constitutional jiggery-pokery among Harper-era Conservatives, particularly those who continue to hold office in Canada, appears to be deeply entrenched and well nigh universal. This includes the mealy-mouthed leader of the Opposition, Andrew Scheer, who for whatever reason lacks the inclination to speak clearly in defence of the fundamental rights of Canadians if that means criticizing Mr. Ford.

Given the embarrassing fact Mr. Ford’s motives are transparently to get revenge against his opponents during his single term as a Toronto city councillor, these Conservatives have been enthusiastically repeating the premier’s not terribly persuasive talking point that this is just about more efficient government, and never mind the rush.

So it is worth repeating the rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations I published in this space early last summer suggesting what civic government would look like in Edmonton under a plan like Premier Ford’s.

The Ontario legislation now being railroaded past the courts with Mr. Ford’s constitutional override will reduce Toronto City Council from 47 members, which he claims is expensive and inefficient, to 25.

With a city population of 2.8 million, that’s one councillor for every 112,000 citizens. This would bring the number of councillors right into line with the number of Members of Parliament and Members of the Provincial Parliament (the equivalent of MLAs in other Canadian jurisdictions) in the same geographic area.

By comparison, the Edmonton Metropolitan Region (which has not yet suffered a forced amalgamation by a Conservative government, as Metro Toronto did in 1998) has a population of 1.3 million, 11 MPs and 27 MLAs.

If you count only the councils of the five cities and four immediately adjacent counties, including one that is really a city, in the metro region, Edmonton has 71 municipal councillors for a population less than half of Toronto’s.

Prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who despised the Notwithstanding Clause (Photo: Rob Mieremet, Creative Commons).

Add the 11 towns and three villages in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region and you will find there are 157 elected councillors.

That comes to an elected councillor for every 8,280 people. And I have left out First Nations band councils and summer village councils because they tend to be on the rural fringes of the area.

It would be interesting to see what Albertans who think what Mr. Ford is proposing in Toronto makes sense would make of a forced amalgamation that would leave a new mega city in the Edmonton area with only about 11 councillors, roughly the ratio Mr. Ford proposes and the number of MPs in the Edmonton area.

I can guarantee you most of them – conservative and progressive alike – would not like it. The development industry, however, might like it a lot.

And let it be said there is nothing wrong with more than 150 councillors for an area this size. Municipalities, remember, are the level of government that most directly affects our lives, and therefore need a higher percentage of elected representatives by population than do provincial or federal governments.

What Alberta political parties think of Mr. Ford’s approach to municipal representation and constitutional respect for the decisions of the courts are both excellent questions for voters to raise with all parties in the expected 2019 election campaign in this province.

The human-rights, legal rights, and equality rights override was jammed into the Constitution in 1982 as a sop to Conservative premiers who saw plenty of reasons to equivocate about the fundamental rights of Canadians. This was done in order to “patriate” the country’s supreme law in a timely fashion.

Like many bad ideas in Canada, this one seems to have originated right here in Alberta – proposed by the energy minister of the day, Merv Leitch, and put on the constitutional bargaining table by premier Peter Lougheed. Both men are no longer with us to say what they think of Mr. Ford’s approach.

The Constitution’s main proponent, prime minister Pierre Trudeau, hated the idea. But it was packed it into the Charter anyway as a necessary compromise to get the deal required to bring the constitution home.

Ironically, the same Conservatives who now universally support Mr. Ford’s refusal to bow to a constitutional ruling by one court enthusiastically support his plan to go to another court to challenge the federal Liberal government’s tax policies on constitutional grounds.

In the event the federal government were to lose the Ontario and Saskatchewan governments’ carbon tax challenge – highly unlikely, since the taxation power of the federal government is unequivocal in our Constitution – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could not use the override clause even if he were inclined to, as Section 33 does not apply to that part of the Constitution.

For his part, Prime Minister Trudeau has been unambiguous in his promise he won’t use Section 33 to override any federal law rejected by the courts, and this is shaping up to be an excellent issue for his government in the federal election expected soon.

Yesterday, all 25 Toronto MPs – all 25 of them Liberals – signed a statement unanimously condemning Mr. Ford’s use of the override clause. It said in part: “We believe MPPs elected in Toronto have a responsibility to defend the city, its democratic institutions, and the rights of citizens to a free and fair municipal election.”

As Toronto Star columnist Tim Harper put it yesterday, Mr. Ford has provided the prime minister with the villain he needs to win the next election.

This is because sensible people throughout the country are waking up to the fact the four-alarm constitutional Trumpster fire Mr. Ford has ignited threatens all of our fundamental rights.

Remarkably, after only 77 days in government, Premier Ford seems to have achieved the impossible: He has gotten large numbers of Canadians interested in the Constitution again, and in reforming it, no less!

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  1. And if there was any doubt about Christy Clark’s real allegiances and the constant criticism she was but a Con in disguise, with hardly concealed pleasure she approved of Doug’s use of the notwithstanding clause; nothing like using a sledgehammer to crack open the heads of foes who belittled and “insulted” them in the past. The very thought titillates. Hard to find another “Liberal” that agrees with her.

    If I thought that Conservatives were people of unflinching good will, not beholden to the forces of the establishment who fund pretty little fake “institutes” pumping out capitalist grist and own the media, perhaps I could condone the use of the clause in extreme cases. But once it becomes a commonplace and people dully accept that it is being used to overrule any court judgement within its compass that displeases the rulers, the road to reactionary d*ckheads claiming populist support for doing pretty much anything including practising petty spitefulness is wide open. Why would they want to look at constitutional reform? It might well limit their tiny ideas.

    The sloganeering the Cons have perpetrated include “The free market economy solves all” and now, “people overrule the courts”. Next thing you know, the jackboots will be coming for anyone who has the bright idea that they can have independent thoughts of their own. We’ll be back to believing poor people have innate lower intelligence just like everyone from a “sh*hole” country originally, everyone on welfare or unemployment is lazy and needs to pull their socks up forthwith, the dashing of women’s and gay rights to some gobbledeegook reading of selected portions of the bible, unions are the work of the devil and what is industrial “safety” anyway, and that people of “breeding” will want private schools and medicine supported by the public purse on a per capita basis if not a little extra. Of course, using publicly paid-for infrastructure such as roads and sports stadiums will also be their right for tolerating the riff-raff who infest the grimy streets of real life.

    It’s a heads I win, tails you lose scenario for the forces of reaction who have tried and succeeded in promoting the screed of rugged individualism – flattery accepted by the vain and patriotic, so that people cannot organize to oppose. Albertans epitomize this feeling of being special people within Canada having bought the dross hook, line and sinker. “We’re so special WE don’t pay provincial sales tax.” Soon-to-be Emperor Jason 1 is waiting in the wings to accept the accolades of his adoring brainwashed “countrymen”, and they’re not bright enough to see they’re being scammed, instead bristling at the very suggestion of it. Of course, history is not on their side, but then who bothered learning history in school?

    The balkanization of the country proceeds apace.

  2. This is what a bozo eruption looks like at the highest level of ‘leadership’. Not that we need another example these days.
    Oh well; at least he’s not orange.

  3. Municipal politicians are the closest contact we have with everyday government. Are the streets plowed, garbage picked up, street lights on, how to deal with the homeless? A city or town councillor deals with problems MLAs and MPs don’t need to worry about, can’t escape to Ottawa or the provincial legislature. At 112,000 per ward, Toronto councillors won’t have a lot of free time.

  4. Right as always, DC. I’m sure many of the allegedly “moderate” conservatives elected with Mr. Ford (e.g. Caroline Mulroney) thought they would have at least a couple of years to sit back, learn the ropes of government and cabinet, and then be poised to speak out only when Ford was under attack before the next election. Unfortunately for them, the day of reckoning came only 77 days into their mandate. Life doesn’t always give you repeated opportunities to take a principled stand. They may find that it’s now or never.

  5. You’ve got to hand it to Doug Ford. Not only has he got people talking about constitutional reform he’s got people talking about $1 beer.

  6. It’s good to distinguish “old conservatives” like Davis and Mulroney from neo-right( neo-liberal usurpers of Tory) conservatives like Harper, Christy, Scheer and D’ohFo in order to understand their different aspirations for charter governments. The former approves of minding the infrastructural minutia municipalities are responsible for in a prudent way because charter governments do not have the luxury of running budgetary deficits like sovereign governments do, while the latter rather enjoy the reduced prudential oversight downsized city councils can afford because it allows private civic developers to rig bids, pad costs, cut corners and wallow in cronyism with relative fiscal impunity, and secure contracts with less accountability.

    Over 80% of Canadians live in cities where a single street block can have hundreds of times more infrastructure to build and maintain than a hundred miles of rural road. The density and complexity of civic expenditure deliberation is magnified by the intensity of competition for limited budgetary dollars, presumably needing more eyes on the myriad of nuts-and-bolts required, while the sovereign parliamentarian may enjoy the relatively simplicity of the low-pop density of the country road, especially when government largess can be deficit budgeted for thin infrastructural and partisan political purposes. Cities are complex and need more democratic representation to ensure limited budgets are distributed effectively and fairly at a cost civic citizens and businesses can afford. But wherever public enterprises and monopolies save citizens money by virtue of economies-of-scale and public oversight—as in, cities— neo-rightists will claim those savings are actually dollars deprived from private enterprise. That’s what makes neo-rigtists different than real conservatives.

    Reducing the number of civic representatives also makes it easier for neo-rightists dominate council by effectively eliminating dissenters. Fewer seats means its easier for neo-right councillors to unify behind and co-ordinate with neo-right co-opted news media (which also sideline diversity or dissent in their news).

    The so-called ‘conservatives’ who step up for the D’ohFo identify themselves as neo-rightists and, if we count them we see there isn’t a real Conservative party left in the country. The legislative versus judiciary dust-up is merely unifying virtue with which these neo-rightists signal eachother. As any real, prudent conservative would note, it has nothing to do with the proper running of a city, but that D’ohFo and his fellow neo-rightists are endorsing the improper way to run a city. It’s all the starker because of perverse novelty and DJC’s simple observation that civic governments are much larger and more present to their citizens than provincial or federal ones. In the D’ohFo model, precious tax dollars will gravitate to crony favourites and pet developments but, subtracted from less favoured areas with no representation (because of municipalities’ limited budgets), will result in potholes and crime along abandoned, unlit and poorly maintained neighbourhoods. Neo-rightism is loyal only to the buck-here-now mantra, not to any neighbourhood, town, citizens or sovereign nation.

    There is no conservative trial from Lougheed to D’ohFo, the latter not being a conservative. Hence there is no real continuity of idealism about this cocked-up legislative-versus-judicial showdown. Lougheed was a real conservative whose prudent policies initiated the Hertiage Fund (the distance successors drifted toward the Reform version of the right—and eventually to the neo-liberal-usurped version—can be measured in the correlative diminishment of the Fund). His introduction of the override clause might have been typical of any stripe of Albertan polician rather than of conservatism in particular, that is, of the many antipathies cultivated between the province and the feds over the years: federal neglect of Alberta’s remoteness, the coercive dumping of old-world refugee immigrants, skipping over the future landlocked provinces (Albertan and Saskatchewanian ‘spare cloth’) to confederate distal BC to Canada, denying Alberta’s sovereignty over resources even 25 years after it was confederated, shitcanning its (illegal) currency (‘social credit’) and, finally, imposing the National Energy Program. One wonders if Lougheed felt the constitutional patriation was the perfect opportunity to finally stick it to Ottawa and PET. Or if a real conservative government might have made less of a hash out of the current constitutional “crisis” Alberta, BC and Canada find themselves in. (Could it be any worse than Notley’s NDP has done or Kenney’s UCP probably will do if he gets elected government?)

    Toronto city council is heading straight to court with D’ohFo’s retabled bill (with the override clause inserted). Soon we’ll find out what the law thinks about his ploy. Meanwhile, as I suspected, it’s now too late to save the civic election, in any case. And that will start to impact the street lights and potholes very quickly because cities are way more immediate and complex than the rest of the country.

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