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Doug Ford’s use of notwithstanding clause to overrule courts and extend third-party ad spending limits is dictatorial, and likely illegal

Limits are needed for democratic, fair elections, but the democratic, reasonable way to determine democratic, reasonable limits is through an independent study

Bill 254 also doubled donation limit allowing wealthy donors to buy even more influence, likely helping Ford’s PC Party most – limit should be lowered to $100

Per-vote and all public funding should also be reviewed by independent commission to prove it is needed, and is democratic and fair

Thursday, June 10, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, in response to the Doug Ford government’s move to use the notwithstanding clause to make impose Ford’s arbitrary limits on third-party interest group ad spending that an Ontario Court ruling struck down as unconstitutional on Tuesday, Democracy Watch called on Premier Ford to back off and work with other parties to quickly establish an independent commission to determine reasonable, democratic spending limits by September, which could be enacted by year end.

The Ford government, without offering any real reason, imposed Bill 254 this spring, which increased from 6 to 12 months the pre-election period during which total ad spending by each third-party interest group or individual is limited to about $600,000.

It’s undemocratic and dictatorial, and likely illegal, for Doug Ford to invoke the notwithstanding clause to impose his arbitrary and unconstitutional spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Money in Politics Coalition. “Restricting massive ad campaigns by wealthy interest groups and individuals in the months leading up to an election is a good, democratic idea, as the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, as is prohibiting huge ad campaigns by wealthy individuals and lobby groups all the time, but the reasonable, democratic way to set reasonable, democratic spending limits is through an independent, multi-partisan commission that will study the actual costs of reaching voters and other key factors.”

In its submission to the Ontario legislature committee reviewing the Ford government’s Bill 254, Democracy Watch called for changes to reverse the many undemocratic, unethical and unconstitutional political finance measures in Bill 254.

“All the measures in the Ford government’s Bill 254 that violate the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote must also be changed because they are unfair and tilt the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party,” said Conacher.

The Ford government’s Bill 254 also doubled the annual donation limit, which will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, and will likely benefit Ford’s PC Party the most. Democracy Watch’s analysis of 2020 party donations shows the PCs received almost 50% of their donations of more than $100 from only 20% of their donors who donated $1,000 or more. The other main parties’ top donors also provided disproportionate amount of funding.

Democracy Watch’s analysis also shows that the median donation to provincial parties of donations of more than $100, which is the most accurate indication of the amount an average voter can afford, is: PCs ($200), Liberals ($50); NDP ($25); Greens ($30).

“Doubling the donation limit as the Ford government’s Bill 254 did will allow wealthy donors to buy even more unethical influence over parties and politicians, especially given that the full identity and associations of donors are not disclosed, and will likely benefit Ford’s party the most,” said Conacher. “The only way to stop the unethical, undemocratic influence of big money on Ontario politics is to limit donations to $100 or less, which is an amount an average voter can afford.”

Bill 254 also extended and increased the annual per-vote funding for parties. Democracy Watch’s analysis, contained in its submission, revealed that the provincial per-vote funding system provides on average half to two-thirds of each of the four main parties’ annual funding. Combined with the tax credits that donors receive, it adds up to too high public funding for parties and candidates.

“An independent commission is needed to study the actual costs of running parties and riding associations and, only if parties and candidates can prove they need it, public funding should then be adjusted to reflect those actual costs, and to ensure the funding is fair and based on actual voter support,” said Conacher.

The only good parts in Bill 254 were the measures allowing independent candidates to raise money before election campaigns begins (however, more disclosure must be required of donations and spending of such candidates), and the measures giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to fine violators of Ontario’s election law.

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Duff Conacher, Democracy Watch Co-founder, Chair of the Money in Politics Coalition
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign