Publications, opinions, and speeches


Bill 39 is destroying the foundation of majority rule

Published on 06/12/2022

When the very foundations of society are challenged, few of us know what to do. But in Bill 39, that is being changed. We assume that public decisions are made by majority vote but Bill 39 destroys that foundation of majority rule.

Many of us know that legislating a minority to rule is wrong. But maybe not all of us. Apparently many of you in the Legislature think this is right and proper.

The idea that political decisions should be made by a democratic majority was established about 180 years ago in Ontario. The progenitor of the idea was William Lyon Mackenzie, and the person who believed a minority should rule – and the person who fought hard to maintain minority rule – was Francis Bond Head, leader of the Family Compact. The portrait of Mackenzie is just outside the door of the Legislative Assembly: no portrait of Bond Head is to be found in the building. Everyone has assumed that democratic majorities were assured in Ontario – until Bill 39 was supported by the majority of the Legislature for two readings. Your predecessors would be astounded at your refusal to hold democracy dear.

Mackenzie believed democracy rested on a number of practices.

  1. That members of the public have the opportunity to directly address the legislators about their concerns.
  2. That legislators have a duty to listen to expressions of public concern.
  3. That the legislators must vote with their conscience – not with a faction or a party, but with their conscience.
  4. That a majority decides the outcome of the vote.

This Legislature is not holding to the precepts outlined by Mackenzie. It is permitting but one afternoon hearing, just in Toronto, scheduling a mere 18 speakers when scores, perhaps hundreds,  have asked to speak. If hearings were held throughout Ontario as they should be, you would be deluged with speakers, given how monstrous is Bill 39.

It is likely you will not vote with your conscience, but with your party faction, denying your own best innate understanding of democracy.

And it seems you will vote to deny the very foundation of democratic government, which is that the majority rules.

If that occurs, your legacy will be like that of Frances Bond Head, assigned to the role of being anti-democratic scoundrels.

On the weekend, I went to a rally of people who care about the natural environment, Conservation Authorities, the Greenbelt, local democracies and democratic majorities. It was in the small community of Stayner, and about 200 people were in attendance. It was held in front of the office of Brian Saunderson, the MPP for the area, but he was not there. Why not? Because he would have been unable to provide any good answers to that crowd. There were three or four dozen of those rallies across southern Ontario on the weekend. And none of you attended because you had no answers.

There is never a good reason to abandon the rule of the majority. Society is never better when a minority rules. If you approve Bill 39, I have no doubt that you will be challenged by members of the public at every public meeting you attend from here on. You will have lost all credibility as individuals fit to govern this province.

You must state today that Bill 39 will not pass and that minority rule will not become the law of the land.

Here’s William Lyon Mackenzie in 1831:

“Are we not now, even during the present week, about to give the municipal officers of the government a power over the people which must render their sway nearly as arbitrary and despotic as the iron rule of the Czar of Muscovy?”

And in 1837, the year of the Rebellion, Mackenzie said:

“CANADIANS! Do you love freedom? I know you do. Do you hate oppression? Who dare deny it? Do you wish perpetual peace, and a government bound to enforce the law to do to each other as you would be done by? Then buckle on your armour, and put down the villains.”

Bill 39 must not pass.

This article is based on John Sewell’s submission on December 1, 2022 to the Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy regarding Bill 39, Better Municipal Governance Act, 2022.


Cities and communities, Civic engagement


There is never a good reason to abandon the rule of the majority. Society is never better when a minority rules. Bill 39 is changing that in Ontario.