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  • mmantha-co

March 1, 2024

Premier Ford isn’t just doubling down;

he’s tripling down!



To be an effective politician, you can’t be a shrinking violet. You need to demonstrate the willingness and ability to listen, reliability, and the ability to learn and adapt to new information and situations. Of course, one of the most critical traits to convey is a sense of self-confidence. Now, I’m not saying that every politician must exactly exude self-confidence. However, you have to have a bit more than your fair share if you are going to do a good job and survive.

I raise this issue here because Ontarians are seeing what might be considered an unprecedented and disturbing display of over-confidence in Premier Ford of late regarding the appointment of judges to the bench.

The job of any government is to ensure the protection and rights of citizens and keep society safe through the creation of legislation. It is the job of politicians to create the legislation and pass it so it becomes the law of the land. Our judicial system must apply those laws to disputes taken to the courts for a decision. For each individual case, the judges consider all the facts and evidence, then interpret and apply the law and offer fair-minded decisions, including possible penalties and restitution if necessary.

Even before our nation was officially created, Canadians understood the need to separate church and state. Similarly, our country was constituted on a system where the judicial system is independent of the legislative and executive branches of government. In fact, the Government of Canada website on the judiciary states, “Judicial independence is a cornerstone of the Canadian judicial system. That is why, under the Constitution, the judiciary is separate from, and independent of, the other two branches of government, the executive and the Legislature. Judicial independence guarantees that judges will be able to make decisions free of influence and based solely on fact and law. Nothing is more important in our judicial system than having independent judges.”

To ensure this happens, we have implemented safeguards to keep the judicial system at arm’s-length of politicians. Here in Ontario, we have what is called the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee (JAAC). The JAAC was designed to develop a non-partisan model for appointing judges to the bench in Ontario. It was first introduced in 1988 by the Liberal David Peterson government and finally passed by the Bob Rae NDP government in 1995.

In the legal world, it is said that Ontario’s judicial selection system has long been considered the gold standard in design. Ontario’s judges are well-vetted by the province’s most learned, experienced and wide-ranging professionals. They are chosen by people who know the law from the inside out. For the JAAC, ensuring that politicians and politics are kept at arms-length is paramount.

At this time, Ontario has some upcoming judicial vacancies to fill. It was announced that two former Conservative staffers were appointed to the selection committee. But, given the apparent bias, whether real or perceived, of the selection of former staffers, the legal community was alarmed, expressing outrage at the impropriety of the appointments.

When asked if he approved of the appointments, the Toronto Star quoted Premier Ford, who said, “One hundred percent I am! We [Conservatives] got elected to get like-minded people in appointments … I’m not going to appoint some NDP or some Liberal. I’ve made it very clear where I stand with judges … The justices of the peace and judges, they’re letting criminals out … I’m putting like-minded people that believe in what we believe in, keeping the bad guys in jail.”

In truth, while many may be outraged, Ontarians should not be overly surprised to hear such comments, given the changes Mr. Ford has brought about since he was first elected in 2018. In 2021, Attorney General Doug Downey changed how the JAAC operates to make it easier for the government to get its own choices named to the bench.

In the March 11, 2021, Toronto Star reporter Jacques Gallant quoted Daniel Brown, vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers Association, who said, “We’re particularly concerned with how future governments may use these changes because these changes would bring back patronage appointments and undermine the high quality of judicial candidates being appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice.”

Such comments, made publicly, coming from any premier, are beyond shocking. Well, so much for keeping the government and politicians at arms’ length from interfering with the judicial system. This is an act of unabashed, in-your-face patronage.

It is important to note that Premier Ford said that he plans to put people in power who “believe what we believe in.” He has used the cover of being elected by the people as justification. Now, I know I said above that a politician, especially a Premier, must demonstrate self-confidence. However, I think it is the ultimate act of hubris to interpret his government’s mandate as carte-blanche authority to go against our established norms in a democratic society. An independent judiciary must be entirely that... independent. Not just after they are appointed but from the outset of the process to ensure we get the highest quality candidate on the bench.

Ontario Bar Association president Kelly McDermott commented that Ontarians shun the American-style judicial system in which politicians directly appoint judiciary. She is quoted saying, “The U.S. experience is a frequent reminder of the need to protect a court system that can be relied upon to make decisions on the basis of the law, rather than ideology or partisan politics. This is fundamental to the rule of law.”

One can’t help but notice how intense and explosive Doug Ford’s reactions have been when questioned on this issue. After the story hit the papers, the media reported Premier Ford “double downed” on his position, offering very pointed responses. But when the Legislature resumed, and he was questioned on the issue by the leader of the opposition, Ford heatedly responded, “I’m sick and tired of judges letting these people out on bail. We’re going to hire tough judges, tough ( justices of the peace.) That’s what we’re doing.”

To emphasize his point, Ford went on further, telling the Legislature, “We’re going to triple down on making sure communities are safe. We’re going to triple down on getting judges that believe in throwing someone in jail when they kick the doors in, put a gun to people’s heads, terrorizing their kids.”

We all know that Doug Ford’s experience comes from involvement in running the family sign-making business. He has no law degree, legal background or judicial qualifications. So it is disconcerting to watch our Premier demonstrating his overconfidence, purporting that he knows more about how Ontario’s judicial system should run than the combined expertise of the JAAC. What makes him think he knows better? His comments and views have been heavily criticized by law school legal experts, bar associations, Federation of Law Associations, prominent legal firms, and a plethora of other groups.

When Ontarians vote to elect a government and Premier, they will naturally factor in the foresight and planning of the leader, who must exhibit strong leadership and confidence. While confidence is clearly a good thing, as we all know, you can have too much of a good thing.

Canadian journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell wisely wrote, “Incompetence annoys me. Overconfidence terrifies me.”

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.       

Michael Mantha MPP/député       

Algoma-Manitoulin     

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