Our vocabulary is filled with terms that are unclear, confusing, or downright contradictory. The latter terms are usually known as an oxymoron, as in jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly, and awfully nice. But what are we to make of the term meaningful consultation, especially as it has been bandied about by politicians and the courts in recent months. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it would also appear that how meaning-ful a consultation is depends upon whether it produces the result desired by the observer.
One of the most amusing scenes in the classic 1943 movie is when the Police Captain exclaims that he is shocked to find that there is gambling in this establishment – a line delivered just before an employee comes up to hand him his winnings for the evening.
We are currently witnessing another example of spectacular hypocrisy as the Ontario Conservatives express shock, surprise, dismay, despair – just pick an emotion and they will emote – over the discovery that Ontario’s finances are in much worse shape than everyone had been led to believe before the election. This claim is absolute hogwash (a technical political science term that I learned at university), as most sentient beings know. The Tories are performing a time-honoured ritual in which an incoming government always claims that things are so much worse than they were led to believe, thereby setting up a ready excuse when the new government fails to carry out its promises.
Who knew that beneath the bellicose, bullying façade, Ontario’s new Premier was such a funny fellow. I laughed out loud when I read Ford’s remarks during Question Period this past Wednesday. He justified the use of the notwithstanding clause by saying that his government is protecting democracy and preserving the will of the people. I could almost hear Sir Humphrey (who will be recalled fondly by viewers of Yes Minister) responding “very droll, Premier.”
Ontario’s new Premier, Doug Ford, takes every opportunity to emphasize how dedicated he is to democracy and government by the people. Even before his election, he announced that he would govern through the people not the government, whatever that means. In the short time since his election, however, he has operated almost entirely in an authoritarian manner, acting as if the election results had given him a mandate to do whatever he wishes. He is especially contemptuous of the notion that an appointed judge might dare to block initiatives launched by an elected Premier. Indeed, he gives no indication that he is aware that there are three branches of government and that his party governs subject to the continuing approval of the legislative branch and within the rule of law as upheld by the judicial branch.
C. Richard Tindal, Ph.D is a retired Professor of Government. He taught for 30 years at St. Lawrence College, Kingston and was an occasional Visiting Professor at Queen's University. He has also written and consulted extensively about government.