Ontario opposition parties step up attacks on Ford’s election advertising law


A ceremonial mace is worn by the Legislative Assembly in Queens Park in Toronto on June 10, 2021, as it meets again during the summer recess to allow the Ontario government to introduce a bill that will allow him to invoke the notwithstanding clause to face a court ruling on a law on third party election financing.

Chris Young / The Canadian Press

Ontario lawmakers debated throughout the weekend in a rare sitting as Premier Doug Ford’s government rushed to re-pass an election advertising law that had been overturned by the courts.

The law restricting third party election advertising in the year leading up to a vote was reintroduced last week. In its current version, it was rewritten to invoke the rarely used section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – commonly known as the notwithstanding clause. This clause allows governments to override a court ruling that a law violates the Charter.

With a Progressive Conservative majority government, unless defections from this caucus, Bill 307 should pass on Monday. Opposition politicians, who alone cannot stop the bill, spent part of Saturday and Sunday stepping up their attacks on it.

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Ford government reminds legislature to pass election finance law using notwithstanding clause

Doug Ford is right about limiting third party political spending, and completely wrong about how to do it

“This is an attempt … to skew the election in their favor,” Liberal MP Mitzie Hunter, spokesperson for the Party for Democratic Renewal and Electoral Reform, said during the weekend debate. “What Prime Minister Ford is violating are all of our rights.”

The provincial government says its bill – which doubles the previous six-month ban – is an attempt to prevent unlimited spending from influencing the electorate.

Government House Leader Paul Calandra made no apologies on Sunday for trying to push the bill through the Legislature as quickly as possible, arguing that a fair election depends on restricting such spending .

“There is no law regulating third party spending in elections at this time,” he said. “We cannot and will not allow a system where there are no accountability measures, there are no rules in place. It is too fundamental for our democracy to allow anything else. “

Opposition politicians and others, however, argue that the government could instead have asked for a stay of the decision or revised the bill to make it charter compliant. Critics say the 12-month spending restriction is an attempt to spare Mr Ford, whose handling of the pandemic has severely damaged his popularity, critics say.

“They say they want money out of politics, but in reality what they want is other people’s money out of politics,” said NDP MP Ian Arthur.

“The unconstitutional aspect of this bill was a change [in the ban, from six to 12 months] that the government could not even explain or justify itself, it was arbitrary, ”he said. “I mean, they could have, but that would have meant admitting the fact that they were trying to adopt it to muzzle their opponents and silence the critics.”

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Other critics have raised legal concerns about the use of the notwithstanding clause.

The decision to invoke the clause prompted a reaction from the Ontario Bar Association, which urged the government in a statement “to reconsider undermining Ontario’s record as a province that upholds the rule. Charter and the role of its excellent courts. Once that record is gone, it’s gone for good.

The executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Michael Bryant, a former attorney general of Ontario, posted on Twitter that “power takes hold of shortened democracy.” He said Mr Ford’s government could have introduced “revised legislation which [third-party] spending limits “and argued that this” would have been more democratic “.

No previous premier of Ontario has invoked the notwithstanding clause.

Mr Ford threatened to use the clause in 2018, when it emerged that his attempt to halve the size of Toronto city council in the midst of an election campaign would be overturned by a court ruling. In the end, the government got a stay of that decision and the council cut was passed without the clause being required. The question of Mr. Ford’s intervention remains before the Supreme Court.

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