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Please Advise! I Can Notwithstand This Spinach

Be like Doug. You too can toss out what you hate with this simple clause, writes Dr. Steve.

By Steve Burgess 12 Sep 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

I hate spinach. Mom says I have to eat it. I want to invoke the notwithstanding clause. Can I?

Signed,

No Greens

Dear NG,

Apparently so, youngster. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is leading the way to your green-free future. After his plan to reduce the size of Toronto city council was ruled unconstitutional, Ford immediately promised to invoke the notwithstanding clause.

But it’s disturbing. This is Premier Ford’s first real big initiative, and his first big setback. Boom, out comes the “Get Out of the Constitution Free” card. He clearly doesn’t take losses well. One can imagine Dougie sitting in restaurants screaming “Notwithstanding clause!” every time the waiter tells him the breakfast burrito is no longer available after 11 a.m. He probably yells “Notwithstanding clause!” when he misses a putt. Ontario is lucky it is not in the path of Hurricane Florence, since we can guess what Premier Ford’s response would have been.

The newly minted leader of Ontario was apparently shocked to discover the premier’s office does not confer the powers of Thanos, and that there is this thing called the rule of law. The judge was not elected like he was, Ford protested. That’s why Premier Ford doesn’t have to stop at traffic lights anymore. The people have spoken.

Naturally some people are rallying around Ford — people like the National Post’s Christie Blatchford, who argues that Premier Ford is leading the fight against unelected judges. This is the same Christie Blatchford who poured beakers of steaming hot scorn on anti-Trans Mountain Pipeline protesters when they defied the law. Perhaps there’s a notwithstanding clause for columnists too.

But then, most of us are guilty of the same hypocrisy. The law is a sad and friendless child. We tend to support the courts only when we agree with their decisions. Otherwise we join in the chorus of outrage.

The Right uses the patented phrase “activist judges” to describe any judge that says gay people have a right to buy a wedding cake. Environmentalists vow defiance anytime a court rules in favour of a pipeline. As for protest, it is a public right, but public reaction rarely recognizes that principle. Colin Kaepernick’s elegant, peaceful protest has been recognized as measured and appropriate by approximately three Republicans, who are now in witness protection.

The notwithstanding clause is different, though. It allows governments, which ought to be bound by law, to circumvent it. It was always a bad idea, an ugly bone tossed to the provinces to ensure passage of the constitutional deal. But implicit in that deal was the idea that governments are formed by responsible people who will behave with restraint. I will pause now while you complete your gasping, wheezing fit of hilarity and get up off the floor. Show some dignity, for God’s sake.

No, the current state of democracy is perhaps exemplified by the recent poll that named Taco Bell the best Mexican restaurant in America. (For those Canadians who would sneer I will remind them that Tim Hortons regularly topped polls for Canada’s best coffee until it was dethroned — by McDonald’s.) The premier of Ontario may be a bad bean burrito, but plenty of people buy those things and we all have to suffer when they stink up the elevators.

The court ruling that so enraged Ford has been called flawed by many legal observers, and the Ontario government says it will appeal. How strange — that’s exactly how the system is supposed to work. So why invoke the notwithstanding clause? The same reason you overturn a chessboard just before you suffer a checkmate. And thanks to the notwithstanding clause, turning over the chessboard is legal in this country. But that’s democracy. When the people elect a petulant ignoramus, they have a right to reap the rewards.

So throw your spinach on the floor, No Greens. Tell Mom she has to take you to Taco Bell. That’s how the system works. And you will get just what you deserve.  [Tyee]

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