From the Park – Predictable

Isn’t it funny how less than a handful of words can bring about incredibly strong emotions or reactions in people? For example, can you think of three little words that can bring on beautiful smiles and literal tears of joy? Of course those words are, “I love you.” Powerful little words. As a teenager I learned a single two letter word (which can also be a complete sentence) that can bring about a parent’s wrath faster then any others. I learned that one day when I answered “So…,” to my mom.

And here is a very simple four word sentence that for sure will bring on a very strong reaction in others. Try saying, “I told you so,” to your spouse, but only do so if you are able to duck very quickly.

In deed, one does not need to have a fancy or extensive vocabulary to elicit strong reactions in others.

As a politician, I have had to learn – sometimes the hard way – not to use such tactics. Instead, I’ve learned to simply infer such words. Have no doubt that intended meanings are always clearly understood between politicians. So it is within this context that I say to Doug Ford and to Energy, Mines, Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs Minister, Greg Rickford, that the outcome of the gas pump sticker court case was…predictable.

For those of you who may not recall, it was a year ago that a court challenge was made to the constitutionality of the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act (FCTTA). The law forced gas station operators to post clearly on every gasoline pump, a sticker that told consumers they were being gouged an additional “carbon tax” of 4.4¢ per litre, eventually  rising to 11¢ by 2022, as a means of reducing greenhouse gasses. The general complaint was that the sticker did not point out that most consumers would receive rebates for the added fees of at least the amount paid or even more in their income tax. The court challenge pointed out that forcing businesses to post such information was an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech. The penalty for not posting the sticker clearly on every single pump was a fine of $10,000 per day was very clearly excessively punitive, especially when compared to the penalty for much for serious and harmful breaches of law. It could even be argued that it was a form of bullying.

As we all know, it seems that the wheels of justice turn incredibly slowly, so it was only days ago that courts announced their ruling. Forgive me if I say it, but the outcome was quite predictable. A year after the bill became law, the courts ruled that the FCTTA was, in fact, unconstitutional and could in no way be justified under the charter.

Governments are elected to act in the best interests of the people. They are elected to protect the public and to help the province prosper and grow. No government should have the right to use its legislative powers to force its political views upon the public. Doug Ford used public money to produce and distribute what the judge determined was a blatantly partisan message.

Justice Edward Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court stated in his 17 page decision:

“A government or political party can, in the words of Ontario’s Minister of Energy (Greg Rickford), ‘stick it to’ another tier of government of political party as a matter of free speech in an election campaign or otherwise…But a government cannot legislate a requirement that private retailers post a sticker designed to accomplish that task. The mandatory fuel pump sticker is an unconstitutional attempt to do just that.”

An important factor in making the decision was the weak attempts to justify the law on its own merits. Ford deliberately chose to only point out the costs to consumers without any mention of what the purpose of the tax was and totally ignored the fact that the money was returned to the public in the form of rebates. Morgan wrote, “For example, in labelling itself the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act … but in making transparent only those aspects of federal policy that fit the government of Ontario’s political narrative, the statute speaks in the voice of an unreliable narrator.” He went on to say also that the Government’s message was “blatantly advantage-seeking by a political party and a misuse of a governing party’s legislative power.”

I might add as well that, in the opinion of many, Minister Rickford’s choice of words stating publicly that the law was a great way to “stick it to the Liberals” was perhaps not the most articulate way to frame the Government’s purpose of the law. It was a red flag if ever there was one. I’m certain in hind sight Minister Rickford would rephrase his comment. To me, it ranks right up there with a defence one of my son’s used to justify his actions years ago saying, “He hit me back first, Dad.”

I would like to think that at least Ford truly did believe the law was actually legitimate and would pass the charter sniff test. I say this because if the Government knowingly passed legislation knowing it was faulty and would have to be rescinded, that means Ford was simply taking advantage for entirely partisan purposes. It was a means to achieve his real purpose which was simply to expose the public to his partisan message for his own political gain for at least a year while challenge worked its way through the courts. To think such was part of Doug Ford’s strategy is truly disheartening in how far the integrity of our government leadership has fallen.

None the less, what is done is done and the clock can’t be turned back – or can it? Seemingly learning from past examples of misspeaking, Minister Rickford publicly stated, “We respect the decision of the courts. We do not have any further updates at this time.” But undisclosed background Conservative officials have made it known the cabinet will be discussing the possibility of appealing the decision.

Doug Ford cancelled Ontario’s cap-and-trade program as a favour to big polluters, and he has already wasted tens of thousands of Ontarians’ dollars promoting his party’s biased, inaccurate, and anti-environment agenda. Appealing this Superior Court decision would be another waste of money, another attack on Ontario’s environment, and another attack on people’s constitutional rights. Wasting valuable tax dollars as Ontario faces on ongoing pandemic that will be wreaking havoc on our economy for the foreseeable future is just wrong headed.

For all of these reasons, New Democrats are calling on Ford to do the right things and immediately commit that his government will not waste another dollar of public money to appeal the Superior Court decision. He has already wasted enough of people’s money on his anti-carbon price stickers that don’t stick – a proven partisan and dishonest propaganda campaign.

As promised, I will honour my principle of not directing the aforementioned four-word comment at Doug Ford or Greg Rickford. But, I will again say, the outcome truly was predicable. It only remains to be seen now if Ford’s decision to appeal is just as predicable.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters.

Mike Mantha