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Globe Editor: Doug Ford is right about limiting third party political spending and totally wrong about how to do it


Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford aroused many critics this week when he said he would use the disregarded clause of the constitution to negate a Supreme Court ruling that repealed a provincial law that restricted political advertising by third parties.

“They use the disregard clause,” said NDP boss Andrea Horwath, “to literally silence people’s voices.”

Yes in the first part of it. Not so much with the second.

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Ford will be invoking a clause to override the Supreme Court ruling on campaigning

It is clearly wrong for Mr. Ford to become the first Ontario Prime Minister to resort to Section 33 of the Constitution. But the law, repealed this week by an Ontario Supreme Court Justice Judge Edward Morgan, was designed to protect ordinary people’s voices from third party groups who use money to dominate political discussion and the interests of their preferred ones Strengthen parties.

And it is also true that, thanks to a long history of court precedent, it is a firm question that Canadian governments can and indeed should limit third-party spending in order to protect the democratic system from the corrosive influence of money.

So while it is unfortunate that Mr Ford is going nuclear citing the Notwithstanding Clause, there is no reason to celebrate the fact that the court ruling put Ontario in the predicament of not placing third-party spending caps in the year leading up to a general have a choice.

It’s similar to the United States, and it didn’t go well. The US Supreme Court in 2010 overturned rules aimed at preventing corporations, mega-rich, and well-funded Political Action Committees (PACs) from spending billions of dollars on political advertising. The result has drowned out the voices of ordinary citizens and made them question their influence on their political system.

The only surprising crease in Ontario? The “big money” that has long tried to buy influence in provincial politics, be it through the front door (now banned) political donations or the back door of third-party advertising and attacks, is predominantly union money.

This site has long supported strict restrictions on political party donations and third party spending. It’s about balancing rights – freedom of expression on the one hand and the integrity of the democratic system on the other.

There were no restrictions on third-party advertising in Ontario until 2017, and spending soared.

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Third-party advertising accounted for 14 percent of all political advertising in the 2007 Ontario election, according to Elections Ontario. In the 2014 vote, it was 41 percent. The amount spent by third parties this year was $ 8.7 million, compared to $ 12.6 million for all political parties combined.

In 2017, the then liberal government finally set an upper limit of US $ 100,000 in the election campaign and an upper limit of US $ 600,000 in the six months before a fixed election date

In his ruling, Judge Morgan stressed that many forms of third party spending limits are acceptable under Canadian law. In the case before him, the first question was whether Ontario’s old limit – $ 600,000 in the six months before a fixed election – was appropriate.

But then the Ford government overturned and doubled that to 12 months with little study, analysis, or debate. It introduced the changes in February and accelerated them in April; the next fixed election date is June 2, 2022.

The Ford government’s hasty moves undermined their own case. Her lawyers had already argued that a spending limit of six months was sufficient and that freedom of expression would be minimally affected. “It’s hard to see that 12 months is a minimum when six months is enough,” wrote the judge. He repealed the law, leaving Ontario in a legal void.

Which brings us back to the dissenting clause. Mr Ford called the Legislature back Friday to enforce it; it is expected to pass by Monday.

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It would be much better if he instead appealed to the provincial appeals court, moved for a quick judgment, and moved for a suspension of the judgment in the meantime.

Better still, Ontario could use the legislature’s dismissal to pass a law that reverts to the old six-month deadline. All political parties should be able to agree to this. Judge Morgan’s reasoning strongly suggested that the shorter time frame would pass the constitutional pattern.

Instead, Mr. Ford typically lowers his horns and charges ahead with the worst option.

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