Part of Ford government’s Bill 254 that extended third-party ad spending limits ruled unconstitutional by Ontario court
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OTTAWA - Today, in response to the Ontario court ruling striking down as unconstitutional the parts of Doug Ford government’s Bill 254 that extended the limits on third-party interest group ad spending, Democracy Watch called for an in-depth study of what reasonable, democratic limits on ad spending leading up to an election are before the government introduces another bill.
Bill 254 increased from 6 to 12 months the pre-election period during which total ad spending by third-party interest groups and individuals was limited to about $600,000.
“Just as Democracy Watch predicted, the Ford government’s excessive spending restrictions on advertising by interest groups for the year before the election were ruled unconstitutional because they arbitrarily limited spending too much, and for too long,” 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 an independent commission should be set up to study the actual costs of reaching voters to ensure the ad spending limit is realistic, and the limit should be higher for groups that have lots of supporters than it is for an individual voter.”
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 the bill that make Ontario politics and elections unfair, tilting the rules in favour of Ford’s PC Party.
“The other 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 is 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 are and then, only if parties and candidates can prove they need it, public funding should 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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