Ford government to invoke notwithstanding clause to pass third-party campaign spending rules
Published Wednesday, June 9, 2021 4:21PM EDT
The Ford government says it will recall the legislature Thursday in order to use the Notwithstanding Clause to override a court decision that blocked the government from imposing new restrictions on third-party campaign advertising.
An Ontario Superior Court judge struck down the Ford government’s changes to the Election Finances Act Wednesday.
The government had sought to double the restricted pre-election spending period from six months to 12 months for third-party advertisers.
However, a coalition of education unions challenged the expanded period in court, arguing that it would have a chilling effect on their constitutional rights to free expression for a full year before a provincial election.
The changes came into effect in May and the attorney general argued that they were necessary in order to protect elections from outside interference.
In a statement Wednesday, Government House Leader Paul Calandra said the government “will be using every tool in the toolbox” to make sure its changes stick.
“Following the Superior Court decision earlier this week, the government will be recalling the Legislature tomorrow and introducing legislation to protect the individual rights of Ontario voters and protect our elections from American-style super PACs and their big-money political influence,” Calandra said in a statement.
Speaking at Queen’s Park, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the move “horrifying” and said it was akin to using a “sledgehammer” to solve a problem that every other Canadian jurisdiction has been able to solve within the limits of the constitution.
“Every single jurisdiction has limits on funding on third party advertising, limits on how much those third party folks can spend, on the timeframes of when that third party advertising can happen,” Horwath said. “Every other province can do it without trampling on people's constitutional rights.
She said her party will do what it can to fight the move, but conceded they will not likely be able to stop it.
"Doug Ford will do anything to cling to power," said Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca in a statement.
"This is Doug Ford's latest assault on the Charter. Just like he attacked civil liberties by instituting province-wide carding, he's attacking our right to free speech."
In a swift statement, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association slammed Ontario’s move to use the Notwithstanding Clause, calling it “a cravenly self-interested abuse of this extraordinary power.”
“No Ontario Premier has ever invoked this nuclear constitutional option, until this one, who has a rash constitutional tantrum whenever a court dares to enforce Ontarians’ constitutional rights – first with the Toronto election, in 2018, and now the Ontario provincial election,” CCLA Executive Director and former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant said in the statement.
Three of the province's largest teachers' unions called the invocation of the clause 'outrageous.'
"Their willingness to trample on Ontarians' Charter rights to ensure their own survival is an attack on democracy that should concern everyone," a joint statement from the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, and Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation read.
"By invoking this rarely used clause to bolster their position, it is clear the Progressive Conservatives of Ontario are gravely concerned that their critics' voices will be heard, and that voters will be reminded of their repeated failures leading up to the June 2022 election."
The Notwithstanding Clause is a rarely-used power that allows the provinces to pass a law that may conflict with rights enshrined in the Canadian constitution.
Ford has threatened to use it to pass legislation in the past, but has not done so.
- With files from The Canadian Press