There was a time when all participants in the political process – whether from the left or right – disagreed about the best approach to issues, but did so with a respect for their opponents and our democratic process.
This is not one of those times.
Moments ago, in the Ontario legislature, Doug Ford’s Conservatives rammed through Bill 5: an unprecedented new law that alters the City of Toronto’s election rules, gerrymandering ward boundaries and cutting the number of Council seats by almost half; over the strenuous objections of the city and in the middle of the election itself.
Make no mistake: We haven’t seen anything like Bill 5 before in recent Canadian history and this stealthy attack on municipal government will have national implications.
Doug Ford didn’t campaign on a promise to unilaterally change Toronto’s election rules. He didn’t submit the hair-brained scheme to public consultation. And he refused to allow it to be studied – as is customary – by a legislative committee.
The aim of Bill 5 is undemocratic, and the manner in which it was enacted mirrors this single-minded arrogance.
In fact, one of Doug Ford’s staunchest allies admitted that Bill 5 was in response to the realization that progressives would pick up more seats in the coming Toronto municipal election. So the conservatives changed the rules to make it impossible for them to do so.
Though it pains me to say, and Bill 5 will no doubt be challenged in the courts, I am sure we will shortly see Bill 5-type provincial attacks on progressive municipal governments become a standard Conservative tactic in other provinces. If the Ontario government can trample on the rights of the largest city in the country, with nearly 3 million citizens, then every municipality is vulnerable to something similar.
Conservatives like to share and replicate bad ideas. Bill 5 is a continuation of the Harper government’s attacks on democracy, which isn’t surprising when you consider that some of Harper’s key aides are now working for Doug Ford. The Harper government tried to make it harder for vulnerable groups like students and the poor to vote, and waged a campaign of persecution against trade unions and progressive charities.
Bill 5 is the next step in the intensifying Conservative attempt to subvert any democratic process that doesn’t slavishly bend to their will.
But across the country, at every level, people are fighting back.
Conservatives prefer a US-style “anything goes” approach to campaign donations. Thankfully, they’ve been systematically losing this argument. Virtually every province – and the federal level – have now banned big corporate and union donations in politics, and progressive activists in Saskatchewan, despite vehement opposition from Conservative Premier Scott Moe, are fighting hard to follow suit.
In a couple of months time, we will see Conservatives try to head off British Columbia’s attempts to bring in Proportional Representation (PR), a more modern electoral system that exists in most countries to ensure that every vote counts and to stop political parties from winning a majority of the power with a minority of the support. If PR had been in place in Ontario, Doug Ford wouldn’t have had the power in the legislature to pass Bill 5.
We can’t afford to lose these fights.
Tommy Douglas said that “The greatest way to defend democracy is to make it work”. You have our commitment that the Broadbent Institute will be working tirelessly across this great country to ensure that the voice of the Canadian people – as opposed to the vested interests of the rich and powerful – are heard loud and clear.
Whether pushing back against Bill 5 in Toronto, ensuring Saskatchewan follows the rest of the country in banning big money in politics, or winning PR in BC, the Broadbent Institute will be re-doubling its efforts to defend and expand Canadian democracy.
See you on the campaign trail!