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Doug Ford’s use of the Third Party Advertisement Act Non-Compliance Clause can backfire: Experts

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TORONTO – Representatives have returned to the Ontario Legislature for an emergency weekend debate over the Election Funding Law Affecting Freedom of Expression, which experts warn could backfire on Prime Minister Doug Ford’s administration.

The debate should start overnight through Saturday morning and continue into the next few days on the bill presented this week using the disregard clause – the seldom-used constitutional tool that allows lawmakers to repeal parts of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for five years to put.

The bill in question restores the rules on third-party advertising spending, which a provincial judge dismissed as unconstitutional earlier this week. The law doubles the limited time limit for third-party ad spend to 12 months before an election campaign begins, but maintains the $ 600,000 spending limit.

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Unions have stated that the rules violate their right to freedom of expression. The progressive Conservative government has argued the changes are necessary to protect the elections from outside influences, but critics have quickly labeled the move a power play aimed at silencing the opposition before next June’s elections.

Cristine de Clercy, professor of political science at Western University, said the term “third party” may sound vague, but the legislation has implications for freedom of expression for the majority of Ontarians.

“It basically affects all of the rest of us, all of the people and groups that are not real political parties,” she said in an interview.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, a senior fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto, said press freedom issues were also at stake.

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The Ontario government wants to enact law to invoke the clause notwithstanding

News outlets often rely on excess advertising revenue during elections, he said, and changes to the Election Finance Act threaten that source of revenue.

“This is politically dangerous and dangerous for free media,” said Dvorkin. “It actually has many detrimental consequences for the state of a healthy and independent media landscape, and I don’t think the government considered that.”

The focus of the debate this weekend is an effort to balance free speech and fair access to political expression, said de Clercy, describing them as intricate issues that Canadian governments and courts have previously grappled with.

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It’s not common for courts to find laws unconstitutional and for governments to react by revising laws or appealing decisions, but de Clercy said Ford’s drastic methods – applying the disregarded clause and holding an emergency debate on the weekend to get them quickly do – stand out.

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“It underscores the concern that, out of partisan self-interest, Mr Ford is working to speed up this legislation because he thinks it will help his party in the next election, not because he thinks it is good legislation is that the Ontarians need, ”she said.


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Andrew McDougall, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said using the disregard clause was not a politically wise move because the baggage behind the measure often overwhelms discussion of other issues.

“Once you take advantage of the nuclear option of the notwithstanding clause, the whole tenor of the debate changes to one about civil liberties and how to restrict them, and that’s generally not a great message,” he said.

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Experts agree that using the disregarded clause to enforce the legislation will be unpopular. But since Ford’s government holds the majority, it will likely pass after the weekend of the debate unless public opposition gets too strong.

De Clercy noted that Ford appears genuinely concerned about third party influence, to the point that he is ready to face the public after using such an unpopular legislative tool to enforce a law called the is unconstitutional. However, she said his methods could contribute to the exact problem he is trying to avoid.


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“By trying to possibly control the voices of third parties against him, he can actually create more resistance than it can crush,” she said.

McDougall said the government is also at risk of drowning out news it might well reflect, such as improvements in COVID-19-related trends and the first phase of the province’s economic reopening plan, which went into effect Friday.

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“Instead of telling this story, we’re going to have a discussion about civil liberties, which may not be the best political option for them right now,” said McDougall. “It will be interesting to see how this debate affects their numbers.”

Opposition parties have admitted that they have limited opportunities to fight the law. They began filing motions on other issues on Thursday to drag out the process and urged Ontarians to voice their concerns.

The vice president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which was involved in the original judicial challenge, said Friday the union is reviewing its legal options.

Karen Brown said at a press conference that regardless of the outcome of the marathon weekend debate next June, voters can still mobilize against the government.

“Ford can pass laws that violate our charter democratic rights, but it won’t silence us,” she said. “We can replace this government.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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