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Ford schools critics on legislative process

There was a moment in the Ontario general election when they mocked Doug Ford because he refused to detail how a bill becomes law.

Ironically, the premier is now schooling critics on the processes, all while flexing his majority muscles. With 76 seats to the NDP’s 40, the Liberals’ seven and the Green Party’s one, Ford has free rein to push any piece of legislation through, despite the opposition’s efforts to stall and delay.

The process itself is loaded with opportunities to sidetrack or delay a bill, but it wasn’t always a head-to-head ideological battle.

As the Canadian Study of Parliament Group — a non-profit, non-partisan organization of parliamentary experts, academics and public servants — noted in a 2013 report, partisan politics changed everything starting in the 1980s.

“The emergence of party discipline meant that the chamber became geared mainly toward law-passing rather than law-making,” the report notes. Whereas there once was a “collegial, even clubby tenor,” partisan politics has led to polarization and acrimony, according to the report.

What Ford and Co. are doing now is the legislative and political equivalent of toppling dictators’ statues in public squares post-revolution.

One of the means is through legislation and Ford wasted no time in introducing the modestly omnibus Bill 2, The Urgent Priorities Act, 2018, which encompasses the Hydro One Accountability Act, 2018, amendments to the Ontario Energy Board Act, 2018, The White Pines Wind Project Termination Act, 2018 and the strike-ending Back to Class Act (York University), 2018.

While Ford has a strong mandate to effect the changes he promised, not all the disruption will come in the form of bills, which can get log-jammed through the various stages of first, second and third readings and committee hearings before they move on to royal assent.

In some cases, a simple revocation suffices, such as the Ontario Cap and Trade regulations, which were ended July 3. The scrapping, then reinstatement of some facets of the controversial sex education curriculum was also just a matter of a policy change.

Similarly, Orders in Council suspended the rules around vaping, the new rules governing ticket scalping and the requirement for doctors to document those receiving vaccines and report them to the government. All were done to allow for more study, the government claims.

Those Orders in Council were made pursuant to the Legislation Act, 2006, which allows for the revocation of acts proclaimed but not yet in effect, namely 2006, c. 21, Sched. F, s. 75 (1).

Clearly, the new regime had done its homework subsequent to winning the election and acted without delay the same day they were sworn in using the tools available and catching their critics by surprise.

It’s a highly unusual and unique strategy, says Stephany Mandin, partner at Goldman Hine LLP.

“Honesty; it’s so rare and unusual, but it is there in the legislation,” she says. “It’s just not a frequently used section.”

Since bills can be proclaimed retroactively, on the day of royal assent or on a future date to give stakeholders time to prepare, there’s a window of opportunity for the new government, she says.

“It’s rarely used and my understanding would be that there’s so much work which has gone into the bill becoming law and then being published as public notice that simply revoking it by Order in Council suggests a lack of transparency. We’re really in new territory here with not a lot of experience with this piece of legislation.”

Ian Harvey has been a journalist for more than 41 years, writing about a diverse range of issues including legal and political affairs. His email address is ianharvey@rogers.com.


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