Musings —09.12.2018 01:25 PM—
As a rule, former Progressive Conservative premier Bill Davis has avoided weighing in on controversial issues since he retired from public life in 1985. He is still interested in political developments but has been content to wield whatever influence he may have almost entirely behind the scenes.
Still, of the 11 first ministers who, 37 years ago, hammered out that historic constitutional compromise, only three are still alive. The 89-year-old Davis is one of them — and he knows what his colleagues had in mind when they created the notwithstanding clause all those years ago.
“Making the Charter a central part of our Constitution, Canada’s basic law, was a deliberate and focused decision by the prime minister and premiers,” Ontario’s 18th premier explained over the phone yesterday.
“The sole purpose of the notwithstanding clause was only for those exceptionally rare circumstances when a province wanted to bring in a specific benefit or program provision for a part of their population — people of a certain age, for example — that might have seemed discriminatory under the Charter.
“The notwithstanding provision has, understandably, rarely been used, because of the primacy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for all Canadians. That it might now be used regularly to assert the dominance of any government or elected politician over the rule of law or the legitimate jurisdiction of our courts of law was never anticipated or agreed to.”
This has been another in a week of extraordinary developments. Davis has had ample opportunity over the 33 years since he retired from public life to comment on government policies with which he’s disagreed. He virtually never goes there.
But clearly, Davis sees the Ford government’s decision to use Section 33 as so far outside the bounds of the original spirit of the clause that he’s set aside his normal reservations.