Ford recalls legislature to invoke notwithstanding clause over election finance ruling

By Richard Southern and The Canadian Press

The Ford government has recalled the Ontario legislature for Thursday in order to reverse a court decision on election advertising limits.

The notwithstanding clause, which has never been used in Ontario, allows federal or provincial governments to override sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The provincial government plans to invoke it in order to overturn a court decision this week that ruled certain parts of the Elections Finances Act are unconstitutional for limiting third party advertising.

Enacted under the Wynne Liberal government, the Elections Finances Act stated that third party advertisers, individuals or groups, could spend $600,000 in the six months before an election, the Ford government expanded it to $600,000 in the 12 months preceding an election.

However, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan declared the recent changes by the province were unconstitutional.

The attorney general had argued that the changes, which came into force in May, were necessary to protect democratic elections from outside influence.

Justice Morgan wrote in his Tuesday decision that extending the regulated spending period to 12 months was not necessary.

Morgan’s judgment declared the sections of the Election Finances Act involved in the court challenge to be no longer in force and the ruling would take effect immediately given the sensitive timing of the case. The next provincial election is scheduled for June 2, 2022 — less than a year away.

RELATED: What is the notwithstanding clause? An explainer on the rarely used provision

In a statement, Ford government House Leader Paul Callandra said the legislature was being recalled to introduce “legislation to protect the individual rights of Ontario voters and protect our elections from American-style super PACs and their big money political influence.”

“In the coming days, the government will be using every tool in the toolbox to protect our democracy. Ontario’s elections belong to the people and the people elected our government to protect and defend our democratic institutions. We will do just that,” read the statement.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) called the decision by the Ford government to use the notwithstanding clause, “unconstitutional and undemocratic.”

In a statement, the CCLA wrote, “The notwithstanding clause was designed to be a democratic safety valve, not a brazen power grab to tilt election rules in a government’s favour.”

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