How Doug Ford’s COVID-19 Legislation Helps Advance His Party’s Agenda

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Premier Doug Ford faces accusations of using the COVID-19 response as a pretext to advance his political interests.Two new laws the government describes as helping the province recover from the effects of COVID-19 contain provisions unrelated to the pandemic.

The government’s proposed Better People, Smarter Business law – designed as a stimulus to the economy by cutting red tape – would transform Canada Christian College into a licensed bachelor of science and arts university.

The college is led by prominent conservative evangelical pastor Charles McVety, a staunch ally of Ford and opponent of previous liberal reforms to Ontario’s sex education curriculum.

On Tuesday afternoon, the government tabled a separate bill to protect organizations from legal liability for the spread of COVID-19, provided they attempt to follow public health guidelines. This bill includes legislation that prohibits municipalities in Ontario from using preferential ballots in the 2022 elections for mayor and council.

Charles McVety is President of Canada Christian College and donor of the Doug Ford PC Leadership Campaign. The Ford government introduced a bill that would make the college a university and give it the power to grant a Bachelor of Arts and Science degree. (CBC)

“To the extent that they are using the pandemic as a cover for these controversial initiatives, it stinks of the sky,” said Emmett Macfarlane, associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo.

Omnibus Bills Policy

Governments of all political stripes – both in Queen’s Park and in Ottawa – have long used so-called omnibus bills to pass measures without the level of control they would receive in stand-alone legislation.

By inserting unrelated elements into bills supposed to deal with COVID-19, the Ford government’s tactic could be seen as worse than the typical omnibus bill, Macfarlane says.

“One wonders to what extent the government was trying to push through some controversial amendments,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

The decision to give Canadian Christian College university status is criticized in large part because of McVety’s political ties, his stance on sex education, and his take on same-sex marriage.

The Progressive Conservative campaign team chose McVety among the few participants in the province’s first 2018 campaign leaders debate. The Reverend sat down with some of Ford’s top advisers. McVety did not respond to CBC interview requests on Wednesday.

WATCH / Doug Ford on Canada Christian College:

The premier of Ontario says the Christian College of Canada’s request to grant degrees is going through the appropriate channels. 0:43

“I have a lot of friends in churches and colleges,” Ford said Wednesday when asked about McVety. “He went through the process like all the other colleges, and the process is independent. ”

However, CBC News has learned that Canada Christian College has not in fact completed Ontario’s official independent process for approving degree programs.

The Provincial Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Council, the independent body that reviews applications for new degree programs and makes recommendations to the Minister for approval, is considering two applications from Canada Christian Middle School.

One of the applications is to change its name to University of Canada and School of Graduate Studies in Theology. The other proposal, submitted last month, is to create new Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science programs. In either case, the board has not yet made a recommendation for approval.

A spokesperson for Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano said the college’s applications were currently being considered by the board and said the legislation would not come into effect until the exams were completed.

Laura Mae Lindo, the NDP Anti-Racism Critic, raised the issue of the Christian College of Canada in the legislature this week. “Why does this government continue to use pandemic coverage to make behind-the-scenes deals with friends of the Prime Minister? she asked during question period. (Kate Bueckert / CBC)

The college seems to think that arts and science degree approval is in the bag.

“Current legislation governing the college has prohibited further improvements to our educational offerings in the liberal arts and sciences,” states the college’s 2020-25 academic plan. “We expect this situation to be corrected in the coming months. ”

Canada Christian College currently has the legal authority to grant degrees only in areas such as theology, religious education, and Christian counseling.

“Charles McVety has a habit of making Islamophobic and homophobic statements and using Canada Christian College, of which he is the president, to animate Islamophobic speeches,” NDP anti-racist critic Laura Mae Lindo told the question period this week.

“Why does this government continue to use pandemic coverage to make behind-the-scenes deals with friends of the Prime Minister? Lindo asked

The government’s response did not directly answer his question.

London was the first city in Canada to adopt a preferential ballot system for its municipal elections. Others may not stand a chance: one of the bills introduced this week by the Progressive Conservatives would eliminate preferential ballots at the municipal level. (Geoff Robins / Canadian Press)

The province “sets a level playing field so that our post-secondary institutions can compete and attract world-class talent from Ontario and abroad,” said David Piccini, Parliamentary Secretary for Romano.

Canada Christian College “is just not on par with any other university in the province,” Macfarlane said. “It appears to be nothing more than a reward to a friend of the Prime Minister in a bill that presumably concerns COVID. ”

The government is also being criticized for its other recent move to insert independent legislation into a COVID-focused bill: eliminating municipal classified ballots.

In this system, voters rank all the candidates in an election rather than choosing just one. If no one is ranked first on 50 percent of the ballots, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his votes go to the second candidate on each ballot. The process is repeated for several rounds until someone exceeds 50 percent of the vote.

London used the classified ballot in its 2018 municipal elections. Voters in Kingston and Cambridge have approved plans to switch to the method for 2022, and other municipalities are considering such reforms.

Ford won PC leadership in ranked ballot

The existing first past the post system typically sees candidates winning with well under 50% of the vote, but ranked ballots are “a small and simple change that makes local elections fairer and more user-friendly,” said Dave Meslin of Unlock Democracy Canada, an electoral reform advocacy group.

Ontario’s municipal election law “allows cities to decide whether they want to use preferential ballots or not,” Meslin said in an interview with CBC Radio Ontario morning.

“What Doug Ford is doing is more of an iron fist approach, saying, ‘Well, we’re just going to ban ranked ballots. No one is allowed to use them anywhere. “”

Ford says the first past the post system is straightforward and voters “don’t have to be confused” by another system.

“We have been voting this way since 1867. We no longer need the complications of the preferential ballot,” the Prime Minister said on Wednesday.

Dave Meslin, creative director of electoral reform advocacy group Unlock Democracy Canada, pointed out that current legislation gives municipalities the choice of whether or not to use preferential voting. (Provided)

Almost all political parties in Canada use a preferential ballot system to choose their leader. Ford won the leadership of the Ontario PC in a preferential ballot vote in 2018.

“This is another blatant abuse of power by a government that continually undermines local democracy with snap decisions,” Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said in a statement. “These overnight changes absolutely do not respect the rights of municipalities to improve democracy and encourage diversity in city council. ”

There is evidence that the government hoped this decision would go under the radar.

Hours before the bill was tabled, attorney general officials provided several media outlets (including CBC News) with draft copies of the press release, so that articles on COVID- liability safeguards 19 can be published as soon as the bill has been published. introduced.

These drafts of the press release did not mention the provision banning preferential ballots.

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