It seems that Steve Clark and the Ford government have really lost their heads. Having previously stated that opposition to the proposed Kemptville prison was manufactured and stirred up by outside vested interests, and not the local residents in CAPP and JOG, Clark has now issued a formal complaint to Elections Canada that the two groups are breaking election spending laws in printing and distributing signs and information exposing the underhand ways of the government.
Steve Clark may think he’s simply following the laws, laws which his government brought in to silence dissent and criticism of their activities, but he has only further damaged his standing in this community. Once again, it is not a matter of being for or against the prison plan, that is a personal choice. But to act in such arbitrary ways in imposing the prison without consultation with the community, then hiding the documents which show that Kemptville did not meet their criteria for where to put such a prison, then telling a Toronto newspaper that opposition to the prison came from vested interests outside the community, now directing the attention of Elections Canada against CAPP and JOG: all of this is a pattern of behaviour that is not acceptable in a democratic system.
Steve Clark and Doug Ford and coterie passed legislation this summer invoking the “notwithstanding clause” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms” placing spending limits of $600,000 on third-party advertising in the 12 months before an election. Any organization spending more than $500 on political advertising must now also register as a third party. CAPP and JOG have been included in that restriction, which only serves to limit, if not stifle, legitimate criticism of government actions, or local popular campaigns against government decisions, such as the prison issue.
It is hard to understand how a reasonable and decent man like Steve Clark could be part of a government that passes such autocratic laws, or to accept that this is the same man who served this community so well before he gained power. Power corrupts, as they say, and this seems to be a prime example of the theory.
What this means, in practice, is that local community groups, such as CAPP and JOG, who are effective at exposing government behaviour, are threatened with legal penalties. Faced with the unrestricted financial and political power of government, they have to watch their step, limit their activities, and endeavour to successfully carry on their campaigns with one hand tied behind their backs.
The lesson to be learned from the actions of Minister Clark (he of the multiple ministerial zoning orders) and Doug Ford is that residents and taxpayers, citizens of this province, have to be careful not to be effective and responsible critics of their political masters, or they will be threatened and silenced. This is not the way Canada, or Ontario, is supposed to be. Politics in this province may have all the faults of elected and unelected powers found in every democracy, but this goes beyond what is acceptable.
Once again, it doesn’t matter whether you like or dislike the prison proposal, or even if you’re apathetic about it. This has now gone beyond those discussions. What we are dealing with now is a government which not only imposes its will on citizens without appeal, but one that attempts to punish those citizens if they dare to raise legitimate questions about government policies and actions. Even worse, it punishes citizens who do so effectively.
Perhaps this government rests easy in the assurance that this Riding has never elected anything other than a Conservative. Perhaps, though, even loyal Conservatives may start to question if these are the actions of a true Conservative administration. We may be used to such political parties favouring the rich and privileged, but Steve Clark’s use of multiple ministerial zoning orders has even led to investigations into how much they have favoured specific developers in Ontario.
Let me use a technical term about all this: it stinks. There is a pattern of arrogant abuse of this community by this government. Taking us for granted, believing that no rival political party could ever replace them at Queen’s Park, these are not the actions and attitudes of friends. Or elected representatives. Should Elections Canada take any legal action against CAPP or JOG over the prison campaign, then they are taking action against all of us, regardless of our opinion on the prison, or how we choose to vote.
Notice in this issue of the Times that Steve Clark has an announcement that there will, indeed, be public consultation on the prison, to take place next month at some point. But what are we being consulted about? Is it a response to CAPP and JOG? No, we are being asked to weigh in on the design of the facility. There is something incredibly insulting in such a “consultation”. No, we’re not allowed to talk about whether the prison is going to be good or bad for the people and community of North Grenville. In fact, if we try and discuss that aspect of the plan, Elections Canada and other legal measures may be taken to shut us up. But, in the great and condescending generosity of Steve Clark and Doug Ford, we may have a say in the colour paint that gets put on the walls!