Editorial: Leo XIII’s wisdom

  • November 10, 2022

If last week’s chaos that descended on Ontario schools, their pupils, families, and employees proves anything, it’s how the language of rights can lead to grievous wrongs.

Both Premier Doug Ford’s Conservative government and the Canadian Union of Public Employees representing illegally striking education workers have behaved execrably during the past weeks. CUPE has scoffed at the law while speciously claiming justification because it says its rights are being violated by Ontario’s government embedding the Canadian Constitution’s so-called override clause into back-to-work legislation. 

Premier Ford and his caucus presumed on their legitimate right to deploy Sec. 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in a way so high-handed as to abuse democratic propriety. 

As we’ve argued, the right of the government to use the override clause to prevent the strike-ending legislation from being endlessly challenged in court does not make it a rightful approach to labour negotiation or treatment of workers.

All bad enough. Then into this schlemozzle of self-righteousness parachuted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to put on a spectacle of political opportunism dizzying even by his standards. Stomping on jurisdictional turf off limits for federal politicians, the PM castigated Ontario’s recently elected majority government for crushing Charter rights. 

Did none among his minders remind him that his own father, as prime minister during the 1982 repatriation of Canada’s Constitution, accepted the validity of the Sec. 33 notwithstanding clause’s due deference to legislative authority? Patrimony aside, it should not be too perplexing for him to recognize the Charter comprises all of its 33 applicable clauses, not just those that can be cherry picked for cynical political advantage. 

The PM’s politicized impertinence, CUPE’s legal nose-thumbing and the Ford government’s obdurate tactlessness all point to failures of public conduct that cry out for a mediating institution grounded in the reconciliation of rights and what is right. We don’t mean “mediating” as formalized resolution of labour conflict. Rather, as the capacity to craft a middle path between entitlement to act and empathetic understanding of the chaotic outcome that might ensue.

The heart of Catholic social teaching is certainty that the Church is called by God to fulfill that very role. Ontario’s bishops could bring the Church’s strengths to the current educational conflict, then, not just as defenders of Catholic schooling nor as partisans on either the union or government side, but as mediating voices differentiating rights and right according to 2,000 years of Gospel truth, justice and wisdom. 

“It is the Church that insists, on the authority of the Gospel, upon those teachings whereby… conflict can be brought to an end…(She) uses her efforts not only to enlighten the mind, but to direct by her precepts the life and conduct of each and all,” Pope Leo XIII wrote in Rerum Novarum in 1891. It might just be the answer in Ontario today.

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