Shomporko Online News Desk: After Premier Doug Ford forced through controversial legislation, unions and other third-party political action groups have been subjected to election spending restrictions.
After a judge deemed their campaign law illegal last week, Ford’s Progressive Conservatives resorted to employing the “notwithstanding” clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for the first time in Ontario history to override the courts.
“We’re fighting for democracy,” the premier insisted during a brief interview with CityNews’s Jamie Tumelty on Monday.
“We’re fighting for people to be able to go out there and vote and, again, protect democracy, so that’s what we’re doing,” Ford said as the New Democratic, Liberal, and Green MPP denounced him.
“I know they’re filibustering, but we’ll keep going,” he said. “I’ll work all day, all night to protect the people.”
Attorney General Doug Downey defended invoking Section 33 of the Charter, saying his legislation “puts guardrails on the electoral system” to avoid unfettered U.S.-style advertising blitzes.
“Right now, there is no law in place at all,” Downey told the legislature as New Democratic MPPs interjected with points of order in attempts to thwart the proceedings.
Opposition members heckled the Tories with shouts of “shame” as voting on the third reading of the Protecting Elections and Defending Democracy Act began.
Last Tuesday, Justice Ed Morgan threw out sections of the Election Finances Act, ruling the Charter rights of Working Families, a union coalition, was “infringed” by the limits on what it could spend on advertising outside an election period.
Morgan’s decision struck down the section that disallowed such third-party political action committees from spending more than $600,000 on advertising and other activities in the 12 months before an election. The previous law curbed spending six months before an election.
That led Ford to recall the legislature, which was on the summer break, leaving MPPs debating through the weekend — including a midnight session on Saturday. The house has now risen till September.
Michael Bryant, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, an intervener in the court action, said it was “a day of infamy for Canada’s constitution.”
Bryant, a former attorney general under Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty, said the CCLA is “considering our next legal steps.”
“The election gag law in question aids the incumbent government’s re-election bid in 2022, by limiting political voices for the imminent election cycle,” he said.
Downey’s bill, a revival of the law Morgan deemed unconstitutional, includes a passage that it “is declared to operate notwithstanding sections 2 and 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The notwithstanding clause is a rarely used constitutional provision that gives provincial and federal governments the power to override Charter rights that conflict with a legislative agenda. There is no recourse in the courts.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, whose party attempted dozens of filibuster moves Monday to delay passage of the bill, said the Tories were being heavy-handed.
Horwath said it was “horrendous” that the government used the clause “to cling to power” by “muzzling critics” in the labor movement and elsewhere.
When Ontarians go to the polls on June 2, 2022, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca says they should remember what Ford did.
Mike Schreiner, the Green Party’s leader, came out against the proposal, arguing that Ontario should be concentrating on other issues, including recovering from COVID-19.
Since the 2003 election campaign, Working Families, which is funded by teachers’ unions and other labor groups, has played a key role in Ontario elections. While it does not promote any political party, it has consistently targeted Conservatives in its attack commercials.