Democracy is worth fighting for

Joel Harden stands on the street next to a campaign sign on a bike in Ottawa
Joel Harden is the MPP for Ottawa Centre. Charlie Senack file photo

Submitted by Joel Harden, MPP for Ottawa Centre

For the second time in recent weeks, the Ford government has identified our democratic rights as a barrier to progress. You will recall the first time with Bill 28, when education workers — members of CUPE-OSBCU — had a collective agreement imposed on them, and were threatened with thousands of dollars in fines if they dared to strike.

These workers defied the government, and stood up for constitutionally-protected rights to bargain and withdraw their labor. They also stood up for our kids and schools. The Ford government blinked, and repealed Bill 28. It was a win for democracy.    

With Bill 39, the Ford government once again treads the same dangerous ground. This legislation extends the “strong mayors” precedent of Bill 3, empowering the Mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to pass legislation with only a third of elected city councillors. That should give us all pause, as this is an open case for minority rule. 

Our first-past-the-post voting system is bad enough — allowing Ford Conservatives to form a majority government with 41 per cent of the popular vote, and 18 per cent of eligible Ontario voters. But now, we hear that majority rule itself is an obstacle in municipalities. 

In debate this week, Conservatives said that Bill 39 will address Ontario’s housing crisis. It would thwart “NIMBYism,” and empower decision-making to “get shovels in the ground”. There are too many impediments to building housing, they insist, and these must be removed. 

John Tory, Toronto’s Mayor, supports Bill 39. He has pledged to only use the new powers when they are necessary to move forward housing and transit priorities. He cites NIMBYism and local reluctance to more urban density as key issues. Minority rule circumvents that problem. 

Previous Toronto Mayors have written Tory, insisting he oppose Bill 39. They are appalled at this attack on one of the essential tenets of our local democracy and a fundamental democratic mechanism: majority rule. Thankfully, Ottawa’s new Mayor, Mark Sutcliffe, has vowed not to use these new undemocratic powers. 

But sadly, that’s where we’re at with the housing debate in Ontario: The government believes it must thwart democratic rights and silence its critics to build the homes we need. These are terrible precedents, and one assumes the government thinks the end justifies the means.

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