Ontario government’s win is a loss for citizens

Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario government finally won a court case.

While this may be good news for a premier whose previous record in court resembled that of Hamilton Burger, the hapless fictional prosecutor tasked with losing weekly trials to ace attorney Perry Mason on the long-running television series (no, I’m not that old, I saw them in reruns), it’s a loss for the public at large in Ontario.

The Ford government opted to keep its directional marching orders to cabinet ministers, routinely released by governments throughout Canada, out of public view after taking office in 2018.

They then fought a freedom of information request for the documents, filed by the CBC, all the way to the Supreme Court, which finally ruled this month in favour of the government.

“The letters are revealing of the substance of Cabinet deliberations, both on their face and when compared against what government actually does,” wrote Justice Andromache Karakatsanis in the majority decision.

The case around the 2018 mandate letters is more or less moot, as the documents were eventually leaked to and published by Global News and are now easily found online. Ironically, they seem relatively innocuous and far less revealing of this government’s priorities than many of its controversial actions.

Despite the court ruling, the mandate letters seem more end-product than substance of cabinet discussions and it’s hard to see a reason they should not be open to public scrutiny.

That such mundane and routine directives can be hidden from public view raises the spectre of governments at all levels taking an even more obstructive approach to freedom of information requests, which are already subject to interminable delays and ruthless redaction to the point such filings are almost futile in many cases.

Ford’s win here is a loss to the cause of transparency in government and unlikely to serve the public interest.

For the record, court cases the Ford government has lost since taking power include:

– a challenge to the constitutionality of the federal carbon pricing program;

– a case over the legitimacy of third-party election campaign spending restrictions imposed by the province;

– a challenge to legislation making it easier to use Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZO) to bypass environmental legislation;

– a case brought by Greenpeace over the legality of scrapping the previous government’s cap and trade system without public consultation; 

  a challenge to a policy that forced gas stations to post stickers highlighting the federal Liberal government’s carbon pricing; 

– a challenge to Bill 124 capping wage increases for public servants.

Although a decision on the government’s appeal of the latter case is pending, those are just a sampling of the legal battles in which the government has ended up on the wrong end of a ruling. 

It’s also been hammered by numerous reports from its own auditors and integrity commissioners for its actions on matters ranging from MZOs to the Greenbelt. and is in fact under investigation by the RCMP for matters related to the latter.

In a province beset by genuine crises in everything from health care to housing, one has to wonder if it wouldn’t be better if more government resources were directed to policy development and implementation than to the legal defence of persistent bungling of both.

North Wellington Community News