It appears that most ministries of the Ontario government have been in a “holding pattern” as our new Government attended to its most urgent business. The first session of the 42nd Parliament began little more than a month after the June 7th general election and our new government’s most urgent business included:
- Causing the resignation of all Hydro One directors and the retirement of the CEO
- Ending the labour dispute at York University
- Terminating the White Pines Wind Project
- Limiting and making public the compensation of directors, the CEO and executives at Hydro One
- Cancelling more than 300 renewable energy projects
- Initiating Ontario’s withdrawal from the North American emissions trading system
- Aligning the City of Toronto’s electoral districts with the provincial electoral districts and thereby reducing the size of the City of Toronto’s Council from 47 to 25 councillors
- Reverting to the appointment of the chairs of Regions of Niagara, Peel and York and the District of Muskoka by their Councils rather than by Region/District-wide election by the voters
The ruling by the Superior Court of Justice that Bill 5, which dealt with the last two bullet points above, contravened the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, caused our government to introduced a new Bill, Bill 31, which mirrored Bill 5 but invoked the rarely used “notwithstanding” clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedom that allows Canadian governments to override the Charter.
Almost every constitutional expert and a number of former politicians who are very familiar with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms including former Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien, former Ontario Premiers Davis, Peterson and Rae, former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow and former Ontario Attorney General Roy McMurtry have been critical of our newly elected Premier, Doug Ford, for misusing the “notwithstanding” tool, which was intended for only the most extreme circumstances, for an issue of such minor importance that was not even mentioned during his recent election campaign.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was developed by Canadian politicians and it forms part of the Constitution Act 1982. Its purpose is to make sure that all statutes passed into law by governments in Canada conform to the rights and freedoms identified in the Charter. These include:
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of the press
- Freedom of peaceful assembly
- Freedom of association
- Democratic freedoms such as the right of every citizen to vote
- Freedom of mobility
- Legal rights such as the right to life, liberty and security
- The equality of everyone under the law
However, Section 33 of the Charter gives Canadian governments the authority to override the rights and freedoms identified in the Charter. This is the “notwithstanding” clause and as already stated, its use was intended by the framers only for the most extreme circumstances.
Our new Ontario government has taken unusual steps to push Bill 31 through the legislative process as quickly as possible including invoking the notwithstanding clause, calling a special 40-minute meeting of the Legislature on Saturday, September 15th and then another for second reading debate that started at 12:01 am on Monday, September 17th.
The ministries are also in a holding pattern as the government waits for the results of the line-by-line audit being conducted by E Y Canada and the report from the Independent Financial Commission. The line-by-line is supposed to be completed not later than September 21st and the Financial Commission was to have submitted its final report on August 30th.
Once all of the intelligence from these two initiatives is received and analysed, the government will be in a position to establish priorities, develop financial and legislative plans and move forward in a planned and orderly fashion.