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EDITORIAL: Doug Ford plays the joker card (June 2021)

July 15th, 2021 · No Comments

Doug Ford has become the first Ontario premier to invoke Section 33 of the Constitution, the so-called notwithstanding clause. This allows him to ignore an Ontario court ruling that quashed Ontario’s new law limiting third-party advertising ahead of the provincial election. It is a tantrum by a premier who will do anything to silence his critics including violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the interest of fairness, limits on election spending are something all parties can agree is necessary in a free and democratic society. According to Elections Ontario third-party advertising made up 14 per cent of all political advertising in 2007. By 2014, it was up to 41 per cent. In 2017, Premier Kathleen Wynne introduced a cap that passed constitutional muster.

Until recently the law on the books limited third-party advertising to $600,000 in the six the months before election day. Left-leaning, union-sponsored third-party advertiser Working Families is a foe to Conservatives and has targeted ads against them in previous elections. Working Families initiated a court action to reduce the six-month limit. Lawyers for the province defended the six month limit describing it as “reasonable.” Those were this government’s own lawyers. Whilst they were in court, the province was crafting amendments to the law further restricting the spending time period cap to twelve months. The election is next June. The net effect is to cut off their critics at the knees. 

The Ford government’s hasty disingenuous move undermined its own case defending the existing legislation. Justice Morgan responded by overturning the new law writing “skepticism of [the] government is not misplaced where new election procedures are concerned.” The new 12-month limit is much longer than in other provinces or at the federal level, it is tailored specifically as part of Doug Ford’s re-election plan.

This was a lower court decision. The province could have appealed it to the Ontario Court of Appeal, sought a stay to the initial ruling, and asked for expeditious consideration. Or, they could have reverted to the six month limit by recalling the legislature. But why do that when you are holding a joker card that trumps the whole game and exempts you from due process? The notwithstanding clause gives Ford a get out of jail free card that he has threatened to use before. In 2018 he slashed the size of Toronto’s city council in the middle of their election. He then threatened to use that card if the courts chose to disagree with him. 

“Political speech is fundamental to an informed political discourse during an election,” said Paul Cavalluzzo, the lawyer for Working Families. “This government is acting like the Republicans in the U.S. by trying to muzzle and suppress the speech of persons they view to be their political enemies.”

Every time a province uses the notwithstanding clause it tramples rights of Canadians afforded by the Charter. It diminishes us as a country and waters down what defines us as a people. In Quebec, it is often used to try and defend a fragile French culture. Doug Ford’s use of it is simply to try and stay in power. Ford’s play is egregious.

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