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Ford government given a stern rebuke over democracy

Click to play video: 'Ford government reminded to uphold democracy in rare reminder from Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor'
Ford government reminded to uphold democracy in rare reminder from Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor
WATCH: Ford government reminded to uphold democracy in rare reminder from Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor – Dec 8, 2022

After an eventful few months at Queen’s Park — that included the use of the notwithstanding clauseOntario’s lieutenant-governor called on Ontario’s MPPs to uphold democratic values in the Ontario legislature.

Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell delivered an end-of-year speech to Ontario legislators moments after giving Bill 39 royal assent and warned of the “fragility of democracy” — a speech that some interpreted as a gentle rebuke of the Ford government’s recent policies.

“I feel a heavy weight … to protect and nurture something that we all hold so precious and that’s our democracy,” Dowdeswell told a hushed legislature on Thursday. “Everyone has a role to play in democracy.”

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Dowdeswell, speaking without notes, told MPPs that democracy is “so much more than a vote” but rather a deliberate choice elected officials make on a daily basis.

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“This is a place where the visions and the voices of Ontarians must be heard,” Dowdeswell said. “This is a place where thoughtful deliberation of issues that matter are held.

“This is what Ontarians expect.”

The comments came after a controversial few months at Queen’s Park that saw the Ford government, which was re-elected in June, facing fierce criticism for passing new laws that have been called undemocratic.

In November, the government tabled Bill 28, which invoked the notwithstanding clause to strip the Canadian Union of Public Employees of their democratic right to collective bargaining, and enforced a contract on 55,000 education support workers.

The bill was eventually repealed after the government faced fierce backlash and threats of a potential general strike.

On Thursday, the government passed new legislation to give Toronto Mayor John Tory the power to pass bylaws with one-third support of city council — which Premier Doug Ford claims doesn’t constitute a “trampling” of democracy.

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While Dowdeswell’s office maintains that she consistently comments on the state of democracy in Canada and around the world, opposition MPPs were reading between the lines.

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“I think it was pretty timely commentary on what’s going on in Ontario,” said NDP interim leader Peter Tabuns.

“I think the specific message to this government is when you mess with democracy, you cause a great deal of anger and you set things up for disruption down the road.”

Government house leader Paul Calandra said while her message was “well-received,” he believed Dowdeswell was discussing low voter turnout in successive election campaigns and did not view her remarks as a rebuke.

“We’ve done a lot of work at the legislative assembly to give rights back to members, to ensure they have the ultimate ability to represent the people of Ontario,” Calandra told reporters.

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