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Judge rules against third party campaign funding regulations in Ontario and declares them unconstitutional

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TORONTO – An Ontario judge has lifted a third-party advertising spending limit imposed by Prime Minister Doug Ford’s government and ruled recent legislative changes unconstitutional.

A group of education unions had argued that changes to the Election Finance Act would deter their rights to freedom of expression in the year before the provincial elections.

The government recently doubled the pre-election limited spending period to 12 months, but left the $ 600,000 limit on third party political advertising spending unchanged.

The Attorney General had argued that the changes that came into force in May were necessary to protect democratic elections from outside influences.

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However, Ontario Supreme Court Justice Edward Morgan wrote in his Tuesday ruling that there was no need to extend the regulated spending period to 12 months.

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This is because the previous six-month period introduced by the former Liberal government achieved the same goals.

“There is nowhere in the Attorney General’s file a rationale or explanation as to why the doubling of the regulated time before the elections was introduced. This lack of explanation must be taken seriously, ”wrote Morgan.

Morgan’s ruling stated that the sections of the Election Finance Act that were affected by the judicial challenge are no longer in force.

He said that given the delicate timing of the case, the ruling would take effect immediately. The next provincial election is scheduled for June 2, 2022 – less than a year away.

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“It would be unfair to applicants if legal provisions that have been declared unconstitutional were to remain in effect during this time,” wrote Morgan.

“If the government wants to change the (Election Finance Act) in time for the next election, it must steer the legislative process in such a way that this is possible.”

A Ford bureau spokeswoman said the government is reviewing the decision.

“The purpose of this legislation was to prevent American-style spending by wealthy and powerful individuals and interests from unfairly affecting the democratic process,” said Ivana Yelich.

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Unions and interest groups welcomed the decision.

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Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who intervened in the case, said the ruling “restored Ontarians’ freedom of expression and association.”

“This is not just about the right of third parties to express themselves on issues that are important to them _ it is about the right of all people in Ontario to hear these messages and to participate in our democratic system,” said Zwibel.

Unions representing teachers in elementary, secondary and English Catholic schools said in a joint statement that the decision is a win-win for the unions and all Ontarians.

“The Ford government’s deliberate attempt to protect itself from legitimate criticism and voter accountability in the run-up to the election has failed,” the group said.

“Justice Morgan’s decision confirms our positions and sends a strong message to the Ford government: rules that drown out government critics and silence dissenting voices have no place in a democracy.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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