Archive for the News Category


The kerfuffle surrounding the recent announcement of Doug Ford’s intention to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is an interesting one.  Usually when the Right and Left square off on some issue of the day, it is the product of one of those classic conflicts of competing sacrosanct principles; usually freedom of speech versus the equality rights of one of the many groups recognized and protected by the Charter.  But in this case, each side is basing their support or opposition to this government action as a defence of the same fundamental right, that of democracy itself.

Pointing to the recent and convincing electoral triumph of the Conservatives under his leadership, Mr. Ford is outraged by the action of the Ontario Superior Court to enjoin the legislation that would reduce the number of Toronto City Council seats from 47 to 25.  “Do we not live in a democracy?”, he blusters.  Meanwhile, opponents of the legislation salute the injunction that was issued largely based on the lack of consultation with any and all interested parties before imposing the new municipal governance structure.  “The judge has upheld the fundamental principle of democracy!”, they crow.

Truth is, Ontarians don’t live in a democracy.  That is not a problem; no nation in the world is a true democracy, because no one would want to live in a pure democracy.  We live in a Constitutional Democracy, meaning that all citizens implicitly agree to submit to the will of the majority on the condition that the majority be obligated to honour certain fundamental guarantees with respect to the rights of the minority.  That is what our Constitution, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, does.  Doug Ford’s impressive majority doesn’t override the right of the courts to rule on whether legislation properly honours the guarantees provided to every minority as part of their agreement to otherwise accept majority rule.

But we also live in a Representative Democracy, which means that all citizens, even citizens with a significant interest in a particular piece of legislation, do not have an individual right to be heard on that issue unless such an obligation to consult has been legislatively or regulatorily hardwired into an administrative process (a la the Northern Gateway Pipeline approval process).  No such right exists in the context of the exercise of the provincial government’s right to legislate with respect to the composition and structure of municipal governments in Ontario.

So here we are in a dispute between those who believe that we live in an unfettered Representative Democracy and those who believe that we live in a Constitutional Democracy that effectively obliges the government of the day to consult on all matters within its jurisdiction to legislate.  The courts have found in favour of the latter position.  There are certainly grounds for appeal of that finding, and for precedent reasons the Ford government would be wise to exercise its right of appeal.

But that is only part of what they intend to do.  They are also going to invoke the fail safe created in the 1982 Constitutional repatriation exercise that was required to get all of the provinces onside that allows any government to impose legislation notwithstanding a finding that it is not in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  While the provision is silent on when it can be invoked, it has always presumed that it would only be used in circumstances in which the urgency of the legislation justifies the temporary abridgement of guaranteed rights.  I say temporary, because such overrides are only effective for five years form the date on which the government has exercised that right.  Of course, it is also always presumed that the invocation of such an undemocratic power would be an act for which it could and would be held accountable in the next election.

The Ford Government is invoking the notwithstanding clause because the municipal election that they are looking to transform by the reduction of available seats is just over a month away.  Any successful appeal would be irrelevant to the formation of the Toronto’s next City Council, and thus could only affect the next municipal election that would occur only after the end of the term of the current provincial government.  This certainly sounds politically urgent, but is resolution of the actual public policy issue really that urgent?  The savings to even Toronto residents of a reduced Council is negligible in the context of the overall municipal budget.  The effectiveness issues seem to involve a trade off between the efficiency of the government process versus the likely decreased effectiveness of a smaller number of councillors’ offices at addressing the many specific city service concerns of residents.  Clearly a Council of one would deliver the most efficient legislative process and a council of 100 would provide more effective management of individual ratepayer concerns, but what the optimal number to balance these two requirements is a tricky one that might persuade a responsible government to consult broadly, not because they are required to by law, but because it is prudent.

The exercise of the notwithstanding clause is always problematic, but it is a provision that was negotiated in the Constitution.  One would expect that it would be invoked in only the most urgent and demonstrably democratically justifiable circumstances.  Indeed, the only three uses of the clause to date have either been of demonstrable urgency (Saskatchewan’s Public Service back to work legislation in 1986 and funding of non-Catholic students in Saskatchewan Separate Schools in May of this year) or a fundamental public policy position that had been expressly promised in an election campaign (Quebec’s 1988 introduction of French language signage laws). Even if the Ford government had campaigned on the specifics of the proposed legislation in the spring and the court had invoked the Charter in the fall to subvert the will of the government, the urgency of this matter would still not seem to justify the invocation of the notwithstanding clause.  But of course, that is not the case here; the size of the Toronto City Council was never mentioned in the recent provincial election.

Now, if the court’s overrule any legislation passed to effect the well publicized “buck-a beer” promise…


Both Canadians and Americans are once again debating the responsible use of Twitter as an instrument of political discourse.  The circumstances giving rise to that debate, however, could not be more different, and demonstrate a fundamental divergence in the expectations of the electorate in the two countries.

On August 2nd, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed alarm at the imprisonment of Saudi women’s and civil rights activist Samar Badawi, and confirmed that Canadians “continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi” (Raif Badawi is Samar’s brother, whose wife and children fled from Saudi Arabia to Canada as refugees following his arrest).  This was followed the next day a comparable Tweet on the Foreign Policy Canada account noting the same concern and “urging” Saudi Authorities to “immediately release them”.  In response to this affront, the Saudi government has expelled the Canadian ambassador, put a halt to any new trade or investment deals with Canada, cancelled all Saudi airline flights in and out of Canada and recalled all Saudi students currently studying in Canada.

Many have decried this imprudent use of Twitter as tool of diplomacy, and much scolding has been directed toward the Trudeau government, which might be fair if this were the first and only way that the Saudi government had been made aware of Canada’s views on these issues.  However, the government has made clear that these views had been made known to the Saudis through all normal diplomatic channels, and this assertion has not been challenged by any critic, including the Saudis themselves.  Fair enough, continue the critics, but then what was the value of this exercise in virtue signalling other than to embarrass the Saudis publicly and encourage if not foment domestic Saudi opposition to their policy?

Let’s deal with the meddling in domestic politics angle first.  Look at the wording of the tweets.  Chrystia Freeland is “strongly calling” for the prisoners’ release.  The FP tweet merely “urges” the government to immediately release them.  While the “immediately” part of the second tweet might sound a little shrill, they only upgraded the “strong call” to an “urge”; still well short of even a “demand” for which one could arguably anticipate consequences to refusal to comply.  It really sounds like they were carefully moderating the response to that which was the minimum required of a progressive government of the country in which the wife and children of one of the imprisoned activists has sought refuge to demonstrate to it s own domestic audience that is was fairly representing the values and interests of Canadians.  Yes, it was virtue signalling, but not gratuitous virtue signalling.  Given all that, the extreme Saudi response seems by far the more unreasonable action.

On August 14th, prolific Twitter star and sometime Head of State of the most powerful nation on the planet Donald Trump fired off the following tweet in response to the revelation that former Trump aide Omorosa Manigault Newman had secretly recorded conversations in and from the White House regarding her recent dismissal:

“When you give a crazed, crying low life a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn’t work out.  Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!”.

To voice and perhaps vent his disappointment in Omorosa, the President could have sent her an e-mail to that effect (but perhaps more coherently expressed), so there had to have been a shaming and our virtue signalling strategy at play here.  To that end, some have pointed out that the recording of conversations in the White House generally and in the Situation Room in particular, is certainly against White House policy and might be illegal.  Once again, fair enough.  So let’s look at the content of the tweet; no reference to breaches of policy or law or its consequences, just mocking references to mental health issues and emotional instability and a dehumanizing insult.  This was pure virtue signalling, where the virtue on display is a vague but unmistakable hostility toward the trifecta of people with mental health challenges, women and minorities.

Even when it comes to Twitter abuse, Canadians are laughably but commendably polite.


For anyone who self-identifies as a radical centrist, these are trying times.  The political discourse on both social and economic issues has never been more polarized.  There can never be any nuance to any discussion of longstanding issues, no acknowledgement of the truth that, for many and even most of those issues, their endurance is testament to the fact that both sides have a point, and that resolution of these issues must be found in solutions that reflect the need to at least acknowledge if not accommodate the reasonable demands and expectations of both perspectives.  That is why it is important to note and salute political actions that reflect a balanced and centrist approach to any issue, and we are fortunate in Canada to have a rare opportunity to do just that.

The federal Liberal government is not one that has been thought of as being particularly centrist.  As a matter of style, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s colourful turbans come off as the personally appropriate equivalent to Justin Trudeau’s fashion forward sock choices.  And on social issues, the federal Liberals leave little rhetorical space on the progressive spectrum for those on the political left in Canada on touchstone issues like Indigenous rights, gender equality and cannabis legalization.  For social conservatives (and strident Conservatives), there appears to be no party of the centre.

That case, however, has never been as easy to make in the context of economic issues.  The rhetoric of the federal Liberals, both in the 2015 election and in government has been unequivocally pro-trade, and never more so than in the recent context of the forced renegotiation of the North-American Free Trade Agreement.  As true centrists, the Liberals’ commitment to free trade has always been conditioned upon the tabling if not insistence upon progressive notions of fair trade and human rights commitments, but the primacy of the concept of global free trade ahead of absolutism on these issues has always been clear.

The application of this commitment to centrism has, however, been less tested and thus less certain as it applied to environmental policy.  The bargain offered on the campaign trail by the Liberals was perhaps vague but undeniably centrist.  To address the legitimate local concerns raised by affected communities, Canadian provinces and enterprises bringing forward proposals to further develop and move product from the oil Sands would be asked to submit to a more rigorous and multi-lateral approval process to obtain what the Liberals deemed the required “social license”. However, once that process had been honoured and a decision upon the merits of the proposal were ruled upon, the development would proceed.  At the same time, the government would address the national and global issue of man-made climate change by imposing a carbon tax on a national basis to shrink the carbon footprint of Canadian businesses and consumers.

It was a policy position that many interpreted as a soft no; one that would empower environmentalists and opportunists to forever constrain a party committed to retaining the goodwill of all Progressives by withholding unanimity from any social license.  And in the early going, the federal government’s obvious discomfort in inserting itself into the growing economic and constitutional spat between the governments of BC and Alberta certainly seemed to reinforce that cynicism.  However, the boldness of the move to acquire the interest of Kinder Morgan in the Trans-Mountain pipeline is decisive and bold.  And most importantly, it is principled in a truly centrist fashion.  The overall policy offered by the Trudeau government addresses the economic need to provide immediate opportunities to Canadians while at the same time introducing an economic incentive to Canadian consumers and businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.  Those that wish to see the oil sands’ oil stay in the ground need only convince electorates in Canada and elsewhere to raise carbon taxes or otherwise voluntarily reduce consumption; any resulting reduction in global demand will hit higher cost oil sands production and shipment before almost any other source of fossil fuels.

The pipeline acquisition officially ends any honeymoon enjoyed by the federal Liberals with the radical wing of the Canadian and global progressive movement, freeing it from any inclination to even appear to be reflexively left-leaning.  And Canada now enjoys something currently seen in only a few democracies around the world: a truly centrist government.