Canada Ford's use of notwithstanding clause for third-party ads law may backfire: experts
The Liberals' net-zero 'accountability' legislation is on thin ice
Bill C-12, the Liberal government's net-zero emissions accountability act, could be a landmark moment in the history of Canada's efforts to combat climate change. But first it has to actually become law — and it's suddenly not obvious that will happen.But first it has to actually become a law — and it's suddenly not obvious that the bill will get through both the House of Commons and Senate before both chambers adjourn for the summer.
TORONTO — Representatives have returned to Ontario's legislature for an emergency weekend debate on election finance law with implications for free speech that experts warn may backfire on Premier Doug Ford's government.
Debate was scheduled to start overnight into Saturday morning and continue over the next several days on the bill tabled this week using the notwithstanding clause — the rarely-used constitutional tool that allows legislatures to override portions of the charter of Rights and Freedoms for five years.
The bill in question restores rules on third-party ad spending which a provincial judge rejected as unconstitutional earlier this week. The law doubles the restricted third-party ad spending period to 12 months before an election campaign gets underway, but keeps the spending limit of $600,000 the same.
The Liberals' net-zero 'accountability' legislation is on thin ice
Prince Charles is over the moon with the arrival of his fifth grandchild, Lilibet 'Lili' Diana Mountbatten-Windsor.
Unions have said the rules infringe on their rights to free speech. The Progressive Conservative government has argued the changes are necessary to protect elections from outside influence, but critics have been quick to label the move a power play aimed at silencing opposition ahead of next June's election.
Western University political science professor Cristine de Clercy said the term “third party” may sound vague, but the legislation has free speech implications for the majority of Ontarians.
“It basically affects all the rest of us, all the people and groups who are not actual political parties,” she said in an interview.
Jeffrey Dvorkin, a senior fellow at the University of Toronto's Massey College, said there are also press freedom issues at stake.
Hanes: The devil is in the details of Bill 96 — and they are alarming
Quebec anglophones were bracing for the worst when Quebec Premier François Legault tabled his long-awaited bill to beef up protection for the French language last month. And at first glance, it seemed like maybe all the hand-wringing had been for nothing. There is no outlawing of the controversial Bonjour/Hi greeting — it’s not even grounds for a complaint to the Office québécois de la langue française. Francophones aren’t completely barred from attending English CEGEPs, although their numbers will be capped. Municipalities with bilingual status can vote to retain it if the number of anglophones among their population has fallen below the 50-per-cent threshold.
News outlets often rely on the excess revenue from advertisements during elections, he said, and the changes to the Election Finances Act threaten that income stream.
“It’s dangerous politically, and it's dangerous for a free media,” Dvorkin said. "It actually really has a lot of damaging consequences for the state of a healthy and independent media landscape, and I don't think the government has considered this."
At the heart of this weekend's debate is an effort to balance free speech and fair access to political expression, de Clercy said, describing them as complicated issues that Canadian governments and courts have grappled with before.
It’s not usual for courts to find legislation unconstitutional and for governments to respond by re-drafting laws or appealing decisions, but de Clercy said Ford’s drastic methods -- of using the notwithstanding clause and holding an emergency weekend debate to get it done quickly -- stand out.
The House: Will Doug Ford pay a price for deploying the notwithstanding clause?
Some constitutional experts see the notwithstanding clause as a tool for emergency use only — but past experience suggests politicians don't pay a price for using it.Ontario's not taking either approach.
Video: Ford government uses notwithstanding clause (Global News)
“It sort of underscores the concern that Mr. Ford is moving to expedite this legislation out of partisan self-interest, because he thinks that will help his party in the next election rather than because he thinks it's good legislation that Ontarians need,” she said.
Andrew McDougall, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said use of the notwithstanding clause is not a politically smart move because the baggage behind the measure often overpowers discussion about other issues.
“As soon as you use the nuclear option of the notwithstanding clause, it changes the entire tenor of the debate to one about civil liberties and how they can be limited, and that's not a great message generally,” he said.
Experts agree that using the notwithstanding clause to push the legislation through will be unpopular. But since Ford's government holds a majority, it’s likely to pass after the weekend of debate unless public pushback grows too strong.
Allison Hanes: For Legault, minority Quebecers are notwithstanding
You’ve got to hand it to Quebec Premier François Legault. Since winning power in 2018, he’s become a much savvier leader. He’s dialled down his divisive rhetoric from a few years back when he used to call for bans on the burkini or the expulsion of immigrants who failed a values test. He’s also morphed from a devoted separatist back when he was a Parti Québécois cabinet minister to a pragmatic nationalist, more intent on increasing Quebec’s economic prowess and harnessing the province’s Hydro power to become the green battery of North America than sovereignty itself. But that doesn’t mean he’s changed his stripes.
De Clercy noted that Ford appears genuinely worried about third party influence, to the point that he’s willing to face the public after using such an unpopular legislative tool to push through a law deemed unconstitutional. However, she said his methods might contribute to the very problem he hopes to avoid.
“In the very act of trying to perhaps control third party voices against him, he may actually generate more opposition than he can squash,” she said.
McDougall said the government also runs the risk of drowning out news stories that might reflect well on them, such as improvements in COVID-19-related trends and the first stage of the province's economic reopening plan, which took effect on Friday.
“Instead of having that story, we're going to have a discussion about civil liberties, which may not be the best political spin for them right now,” McDougall said. “It’ll be interesting to see how this debate plays out on their numbers.”
Opposition parties have acknowledged that they have limited options for fighting the bill. They began on Thursday by introducing motions on other issues to drag out the process, and have called on Ontarians to voice their concerns.
The vice president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, which was involved in the original court challenge, said on Friday that the union was looking into its legal options.
Karen Brown said at a news conference that no matter the outcome of the marathon weekend debate, voters can still mobilize against the government next June.
"Ford can pass legislation that tramples on our democratic Charter rights, but he will not silence us," she said. "We can replace this government."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
Study: Almost half of the ads on fake news pages come from Google .
Google, according to a study, delivers almost half of all advertisements to websites that spreading fake news. The researchers see Google in the duty to do more. © Bigtunaonline / Shutterstock Google advertising finances fake news pages. According to the ADS Safety Report published in March , Google has blocked or removed around 3.1 billion ads alone by 2020, and 1.3 billion Publisher pages excluded from advertising circuits because it violates the guidelines of the search engine group.