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If Torontonians want to protect Toronto's 2018 election, we have to do it ourselves.

Doug Ford is the duly elected premier of Ontario, and will govern with a majority at Queen's Park for at least the next four years, whether we like it or not (I really don’t). But Ford is not satisfied with his electoral victory back in June, and has now decided he’d like to capture Toronto’s ongoing 2018 municipal election as well. On Monday, the first business day after nominations for our local election closed, Ford and his Progressive Conservative colleagues put forward a law to redraw Toronto’s electoral boundaries, and to reduce the number of elected councillors from 47 to 25.

Ford doesn’t mind that such a move in the middle of the campaign would jeopardize the fairness and integrity of Toronto’s vote in October—if I’m honest, he seems delighted by the potential chaos.

This is more bad news for Toronto in the middle of a sweltering summer full of highly publicized violence, the increased militarization of public space, and endless scapegoating of the communities already suffering from government austerity and neglect. We don’t need Ford’s undemocratic, self-serving, mid-election interference right now. It’s an insult to our city’s ability to make our own decisions, and to be consulted about fundamental changes to our politics. But if Torontonians are waiting for some higher power to stop this attack on our city, we’ll wait in vain: we have to stand up for ourselves because no one is coming to save us.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals are not going to save us. Why would they? If we are arguing that politicians in one level of government shouldn’t interfere with the elections of another, there is no incentive for feds to sully themselves in a local election dispute, no matter how egregious it might be. Professor and poet George Elliott Clarke recommends that Trudeau employ the rarely used “federal power of disallowance” to stop Ford, but concedes in the next breath that federal Liberals “have no intention of meddling in provincial politics.”

Try as they might to stall Ford’s autocratic move, Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath and the Ontario New Democratic Party caucus ultimately can’t stop any legislation. On Tuesday Horwath announced her party had managed to add two days to the process of passing Ford’s election-altering law. But Ford’s Progressive Conservatives hold a comfortable majority of seats at Queen's Park, and Horwath herself conceded last week that “we'll fight this with everything we have, but we don't have much.”

Don’t expect any leadership from Toronto’s chief magistrate John Tory. The mayor is too busy agreeing that Toronto needs fewer councillors to forcefully oppose the draconian methods proposed to get it done. Tory first suggested he was surprised to learn of Ford’s plan last week, then admitted the premier told him about it at a meeting in early July. Tory says he didn’t think Ford was serious, but now that the game is on, the mayor is pushing for a referendum. Tory’s idea of toughness is to ask residents what they think of a law Ford plans to implement anyway. It seems Tory will justify any means to get council composition he wants—he’s on the wrong side of this fight.

Of course, we are in the middle of an election campaign, and residents who oppose Tory’s reign, and that of the larger council, have had the opportunity to step forward for office. In fact, some candidates are even using their opposition to provincial election interference to raise money and gain support. Good for them I suppose, but not ultimately helpful for those of us who want to protect the 2018 election. It’s not enough for political candidates to disagree with the electoral process they’ve signed up for. Ford’s gambit threatens the entire political system, not merely the fate of individual politicians.

In lieu of all this, we always have the courts I guess. Both the city and individual residents are threatening legal action against Ford’s government. There’s no guarantee the courts would stop Queen's Park from using its constitutionally-prescribed powers, even if the timing is deceptive and the process mean-spirited. Given the stakes, we can’t gamble that the courts will save us from Ford. Our institutions are designed first and foremost to preserve themselves and one another, and when they fail to defend the public, we have to defend ourselves.

Historically in Toronto, small but powerful groups of people have disrupted business as usual in response to government injustices. In recent years, Black Lives Matter Toronto, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, and No One is Illegal, and Idle No More, and their many respective supporters have fought for marginalized Torontonians by blocking city streets, interrupting public meetings, occupying government buildings and challenging the notion that on balance, our political institutions are doing more good than harm.

"If Torontonians are waiting for some higher power to stop this attack on our city, we’ll wait in vain: we have to stand up for ourselves because no one is coming to save us," writes @DesmondCole in his first column for @NatObserver #onpoli #topoli

For their bold actions, these groups have been met with overwhelming scorn. Ironically, many who condemn public disruptions and dogmatically call for resolutions within the political system are now recognizing the limitations of reasoning with unreasonable people and institutions. Welcome, we’ve been trying to tell you. But even we troublemakers cannot save you from the system you’ve been rationalizing to us, nor should we have to.

I’ve been one of the most vocal critics of the dysfunction that is Toronto city council. While I’m no hype man for the virtues of our democratic system, I am disgusted to see politicians stripping away the inadequate forms of representation we do have. Many of us have taken to the street to defend ourselves, to fight for what we believe in. For those who sat and critiqued our desperation, I ask you now: what do you believe in? What parts, if any, of this disintegrating social and political reality are worth your time, your energy, your voice, your body, your disruption and your resistance? How much do elections really matter?

A politician isn’t supposed to be the boss in the democratic system, the people are. But Ford tells us he speaks for all the people. Unless people who are used to justifying the system actually show up and show out to defend it, the premier will use his political power to remake the 2018 election as he sees fit. No one is coming to save Torontonians from Ford’s proposed electoral chaos, but if we decide this election is worth fighting for, we can have the vote we were always planning, and push back against a failed mayoral candidate who wants to rule Toronto from Queen's Park.

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Very happy to see Mr Cole on the roster! His voice is appreciated.

Love this comment, completely true:
"Our institutions are designed first and foremost to preserve themselves and one another, and when they fail to defend the public, we have to defend ourselves."
Well said, all of it. Thanks

The greatest threat to Canada’s ‘national security’, is the rise of the new, conservative political machine. Dark times call for bright leadership; thank you for this undeniable, truth filled, and pressing commentary Mr. Cole.

First it is great to see Desmond Cole in the National Observer.

Doug Ford has essentially become a dictator based on just over 40% of the popular vote. A majority of Ontario voters didn't want him. Is this not a good time to seriously discuss electoral reform and Proportional Representation? It works well in other successful democracies around the world. Under PR, Doug Ford could not carry out what he is doing without the democratic approval of the members of the legislature. Members who represent the people who elected them.

I agree absolutely. Our parliamentary systems throughout Canada have become dictatorial whenever majority governments are elected. They no longer represent the people, just their own ideologies.

You call it dictatorship but we've had it forever, with most governments getting less than 50% of the vote. It's been called normal for a century i think. But I now support proportional representation.

And around 25% of the eligible voters. Not voting is not a useful protest. Four years is a long time. Better to vote for the least awful.

Desmond is a breath of fresh air. Let’s hope he incites an ever increasing number of breathes, blowing in the same direction builds a breeze, and turns this force if nature into a gale in time for the election.

Profoundly intense opinion and articulated with much respect and civility. Hope to hear from Mr. Cole often on National Observer. I totally agree with him and worry about the direction North America is taking with this form of authoritarian government.

This is an excellent article, without rancour or unnecessary hype, but with a very realistic warning. I shall send a link to my Toronto family and friends.

This is an excellent article, without rancour or unnecessary hype...from Janet...really?
"We really don’t need Ford’s undemocratic, self-serving, mid-election interference right now"
"Toronto needs fewer councillors to forcefully oppose the draconian methods proposed to get it done"
"There’s no guarantee the courts would stop Queens Park from using its constitutionally-prescribed powers, even if the timing is deceptive and the process mean-spirited"
But there is no hype or

This is nothing but pettiness on Ford's part. The dysfunction he's cited is now happening at Queen's Park so I can only assume he's a large part of the problem. I'm not a Torontonian so there isn't much I can do to help you, however, we had better all sit up and pay attention because this bully has a 4 year mandate and can do whatever he chooses to any Ontario community. What on earth were Ontarians thinking?

Great. Yet another biased-on-the-left columnist/news source. How much are we all paying to support this one? Sorry, folks, when you don't have a better message, sometimes you lose. All it is are ideas you're not that fond of being put into practice. Realize whatever you're feeling is exactly what others felt the whole time they had to see what 'the other guy' you liked better was doing. Grow up and stop being so egocentric and ask at least what your side was doing so wrong that it didn't reach a lot of people. Actually, don't do that, because you might figure it out. Keep being smug and superior, assuming that you MUST be right on every issue, and keep looking down on leaders you don't like and the people who vote for them. Your contempt is the best recruitment tool for our side. This fellow above is polite, but is devoid of any ability to reflect on the fact if his views were voted out, perhaps it's an opportunity for HIM to learn, grow or change. If you want to put Ford's actions in some perspective, read Lorrie Goldstein's comparison to other 'authoritarian' actions by previous premiers in the Sun, called "Andrea Horvath's calling Ford a 'dictator' a farce".

cole you dam good writer oh god you so smart where did get the brain ha ha love you howard

Yes! Everything he said. Hope to hear more from Mr. Cole in future issues.