Ford government set to invoke notwithstanding clause after court rejects election finance changes
Superior Court ruled this week that Election Finances Act infringes on Charter rights
The Ontario government says it will reconvene the legislature on Thursday to introduce legislation that will enable it to invoke the notwithstanding clause to deal with a court ruling on a third party election financing law.
On Tuesday, the Ontario Superior Court struck down the Election Finances Act, tabled by the province this year, that would have limited third-party spending outside an election year.
Justice Edward Morgan ruled that several sections of the law infringe on rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are "of no force or effect."
Paul Calandra, Ontario's Government House Leader, said in a statement on Wednesday that the government will recall the legislature to deal with the ruling. A spokesman for Calandra confirmed that the government would use the notwithstanding clause to enact provisions that were struck down by the court.
"Following the Superior Court decision earlier this week, the government will be recalling the Legislature tomorrow and introducing legislation to protect the individual rights of Ontario voters and protect our elections from American-style super PACs [political action committees] and their big- money political influence," Calandra said in a statement.
"The court's decision earlier this week means a few wealthy elites, corporations and special interest groups operating through American-style super PACs would be allowed to interfere in and control our elections with unlimited money, with no rules, no disclosure, and with no accountability."
Ontario using 'nuclear constitutional option,' CCLA says
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), however, said in a news release following the announcement that the use of the notwithstanding clause is an extraordinary abuse of power.
"Given the subject of the law, and its impact on the next provincial election, this is a cravenly self-interested abuse of this extraordinary power," Michael Bryant, executive director of the CCLA, said in the release.
"No Ontario Premier has ever invoked this nuclear constitutional option, until this one, who has a rash constitutional tantrum whenever a court dares to enforce Ontarians' constitutional rights — first with the Toronto election, in 2018, and now the Ontario provincial election," he added.
"Changing the election rules to favour an incumbent government is unconstitutional, and undemocratic. The more constitutional, less political, way of disagreeing with a court decision would be to seek a stay, and file an appeal, which is what happened the last time the Premier threatened the notwithstanding clause."
Bryant added that the notwithstanding clause was intended to be a "democratic safety valve," not a "brazen power grab" to make election rules favour the government.
The clause gives provincial legislatures or Parliament the ability to override certain portions of the charter for a five-year term.
NDP says Ontario trampling on rights to override ruling
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government is trampling on rights to override the court ruling in a bid to silence its critics.
"This is horrifying what he's doing," Horwath told reporters at a hastily organized news conference on Wednesday at Queen's Park. "We're going to fight but it's going to be difficult to get the government off of this track."
Horwath said it is "disgraceful" that Ford is concerned about his popularity at a time when Ontarians are reeling from a truck attack in London, Ont., that killed four members of a Muslim family. People are also still trying to cope with the news of the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., she added.
"This premier has got his priorities all wrong," she said. "Doug Ford wants to crush his critics."
Unions argued changes to law would restrict free speech
In the ruling, Morgan ruled that it was unnecessary to amend the Election Finances Act to extend the restricted pre-election spending period to 12 months.
The government had doubled the restricted pre-election spending period to 12 months but kept the $600,000 limit on third-party political advertisement spending the same.
Education unions had argued that the change would restrict their free speech in the lead-up to the election, scheduled for next June.
The attorney general had argued that the changes were necessary to protect democratic elections from outside influence.
With files from The Canadian Press