Doug Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause reduces democracy to majority rule

Doug Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause reduces democracy to majority rule

During his Monday press conference, Ontario Premier Doug Ford responded to the decision handed down by Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba that the provincial law reducing the size of the Toronto city council breached Charter rights. The premier stated that he would invoke s. 33 of the Charter, the so-called notwithstanding clause, to override what he considered to be a bad judicial decision, although he did not explain why he thought the judge was wrong in his application of the Charter. The legislature would be recalled and asked to pass a resolution declaring that The Better Local Government Actwould apply “notwithstanding” the Charter. That process was set in motion on Wednesday.

But Premier Ford said more than this at his press conference. He also indicated that he would not hesitate to use s. 33 in the future, if and when a judge ruled against his government’s legislation. After all, asked Ford, why should the views of unelected judges prevail over those of the elected representatives of the people — over the will of the majority?

With that declaration, the premier did more than simply state his disagreement with Justice Belobaba’s decision: he (in effect) announced his opposition to the Charter of Rights, and his commitment to a conception of democracy in which the Charter has no place. Indeed, his assertions about the will of the majority (even though his government did not receive a majority of the votes) can be read as a rejection of the essential role of individual rights in a democratic form of government. Democracy is thus reduced to majority rule. It is left to the majority (or even a plurality) to decide if it wants to protect particular individual or minority rights.