It will go down as a shameful moment in Ontario’s history: a group of senior citizens, a 77-year-old woman among them, escorted from the public gallery of the people’s chambers. Their hands cuffed behind their backs like criminals.
Their crime? They dared speak up for the basic democratic rights enshrined for them — and for all of us — in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Instead of listening to their concerns and engaging them in respectful debate, Doug Ford had them thrown out. Silenced.
And while Ford’s inner circle of cynical Harperites celebrate, all the other Conservative MPPs are standing meekly and silently behind him — it’s notwithstanding-room-only in the Caucus chambers.
But mark my words: they will regret it if they continue to allow Ford to demolish our democracy.
Some of you may be asking: What’s the big deal? Why does a Kingston boy like me care so much about what happens to Toronto?
The answer is simple: this matters because democracy matters. And anything that weakens our democracy weakens us all.
I’m not just talking about the narrow definition of democracy that Ford keeps spouting — the one where he says he can do whatever he wants because he won a single election. (And honestly, unseating a tired old government that had been in power for 15 years isn’t nearly the accomplishment he seems to think.)
No, I’m talking about democracy in all its glory. The free speech. The equality and fairness. The respect for rules and tradition. The open debate and the competition of ideas. The transparency, the accountability. The politics and the persuasion.
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others,” Winston Churchill famously said.
Democracy isn’t always easy. It’s rarely efficient. But who ever said it should be easy or efficient? Going to the gym isn’t easy or efficient, either. But it makes us stronger.
Democracy makes us stronger because it constantly forces us to do better. It’s a struggle, but it’s through that struggle that we move forward.
That’s certainly the case here at OPSEU. We’re one of the strongest and most powerful unions in the province because our democracy is one of the strongest and most powerful.
From setting our bargaining priorities, to deciding to go on strike, to electing our leaders, we make sure that our members have a real say, and a real stake, in the course we’re charting. All ideas are tested, and the best ones rise to the top.
If, on the other hand, our members didn’t feel like we were in this together, we’d fall apart every time the going got tough.
If Doug Ford really wanted to help Toronto by making its city council smaller, he’d work within the rules and put the effort into persuading us all that it’s the right thing to do.
Instead, he’s trying to take the easy way out. And that just threatens to make him, and all the rest of us, weaker, notwithstanding all that we have accomplished before.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union