Aug. 31, 2006
Premier Dalton McGuinty’s decision to refrain from direct involvement in the Caledonia standoff offers a glaring opportunity to challenge his leadership. The Ontario Provincial Police have refused to remove occupiers from the disputed land, and many voters in Caledonia want McGuinty to demand that the police enforce the law.
McGuinty rightly fears that his direct involvement could result in Liberals being blamed for an Ipperwash-like tragedy, and he has responded by asserting that he has no constitutional authority to require the police to take action.
However, legal experts researching that issue for the Ipperwash Inquiry have explained that there exist good legal arguments that a premier can direct police to enforce the law.
With those arguments, one could justifiably assert that McGuinty’s excuse for inaction is flimsy and that his leadership is lacking.
Given this rare opportunity to so clearly distinguish one’s leadership qualities from those of the premier, one might expect John Tory to demand that McGuinty direct police to remove occupants at Caledonia.
Indeed, Tory has submitted that negotiations must stop until the rule of law is restored at Caledonia, and he has condemned McGuinty for not getting involved directly. Yet Tory has also stated: “(I)t’s not the decision of the government as to when the police move in to enforce a court order … it is not my job, or Mr. McGuinty’s for that matter, to order the police to do anything.”
Moreover, Tory’s supposedly “hard line” that negotiations should cease until the rule of law is restored is, in truth, hypocritical bafflegab: He proposes that McGuinty restore the rule of law by sitting down with First Nations leaders and working out a way in which to restore the rule of law. Now, I’m just a lawyer, but I would call that a form of negotiation. So why won’t Tory “order the police to do anything?”
For decades prior to 1993, the PCs billed themselves as a management party. However, feeling threatened when the emergence of the Reform party contributed to the electoral wipeout of the federal PC party, the Ontario Conservatives defensively dropped its traditional role as manager. Under Mike Harris, it adopted a Reform-like, activist agenda of tax cuts, spending cuts and balanced budgets. It became a party of change.
That transformation helped the party to win a majority in Ontario’s 1995 election. However, proponents of the big- government status quo — both within and outside of the PC party — have had some success in establishing an emotional connection between Harris’s agenda for change, and the 1995 killing of Dudley George at Ipperwash Provincial Park.
When Harris resigned in 2002, the old guard of the Progressive Conservative membership decided that, with Reform now out of the picture, the party should stop being a party of change and return to being what it had been prior to 1993: a party that manages the status quo.
To convince the public that the party has gone back to being a management party, the PCs have elected party leaders who have implicitly or explicitly distanced the party from both Harris and his Common Sense Revolution.
Essentially, the party figures that if it can’t beat the Harris bashers, it should apologize and seek forgiveness from the public by joining Harris bashers in their condemnation of the former premier and his revolution.
Tory cannot say that the premier should direct police to enforce the law. Doing so would suggest that, if Harris did direct the police at Ipperwash, he was right to do so.
Tory’s only option is to concur with McGuinty that a premier cannot direct the police to take action. Doing so serves as an excuse for Tory’s failure to advocate police intervention. However, more importantly, as an implicit condemnation of Harris’s alleged intervention at Ipperwash, Tory’s concurrence with McGuinty serves the party’s sacrificial strategy to obtain forgiveness.
Does it matter that the PCs’ strategy hampers Tory’s efforts to look like a better leader? To the PCs yes, but to the voter who wants change, no.
Management parties do not propose significant changes to large government programs; they propose only to “repair” and to “manage” them better. Accordingly, the only way for the PCs now to distinguish themselves from the Liberals is by demonstrating that Tory’s “leadership” is somehow better than McGuinty’s. That effort will fail so long as the party’s strategy requires Tory to tow McGuinty’s line in response to crises like that at Caledonia.
To informed voters who want change, Tory’s alleged leadership is largely irrelevant. It will neither fill their bellies nor restore order. Such voters will prefer a party that offers changed government policy to a party that offers doubtfully better management of the status quo.
Letters to the Editor
John Tory has indeed said that the rule of law must be restored, but talk is cheap. “Concerned about the optics” of looking like another Mike Harris, Tory has followed McGuinty’s lead by stating that elected officials lack authority to instruct the police to enforce the law at Caledonia. Tory’s only recommendation has been for the Premier to talk with those involved in the dispute about how the rule of law might be restored. This is not a “hard line” on the rule of law. To implicitly recommend “land for peace” is a cowardly cop-out and an appeasement of aggressors. It is not “leadership.”
Leader, Freedom Party of Ontario