Ontario Federation of Labour and Democracy Watch call on Attorney General to disclose constitutional evaluation of Bill 254 | The Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour and Democracy Watch call on Attorney General to disclose constitutional evaluation of Bill 254

TORONTO – As MPPs vote on the third reading of Bill 254 today, the Ontario Federation of Labour and Democracy Watch are calling on Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey to release the government lawyer’s evaluation about whether the Ford government’s Bill 254 violates constitutional Charter rights.

“Ford’s Conservative government has made numerous attempts at unconstitutional changes to Ontario’s laws that the courts have rejected,” said Patty Coates, Ontario Federation of Labour President. “The public has a right to know whether the government’s own lawyers think Bill 254 violates Charter rights.”

Lawyers from the Ontario Attorney General’s Constitutional Law Branch usually review all proposed bills to ensure they are constitutional.  The federal government enacted a law in 2019 requiring the Department of Justice to issue a public statement concerning whether each bill complies with the Charter.

“Since 2016, the federal government disclosed its lawyers’ Charter opinions about each bill soon after each bill is introduced in Parliament,” said Coates. “If Attorney General Downey has nothing to hide, he will disclose the legal opinions prepared by the Ford government’s lawyers about whether Bill 254 is unconstitutional.”

Bill 254 increases the pre-election period from 6 months to 12 months during which advertising spending by interest groups and individuals – known as “third parties” – is limited, while the current spending limit remains the same.  

This doubling of the length of the regulated period prior to the writ also does not include any corresponding change to the definition of “political advertising” to permit issue-based expression. This is unprecedented in Canada and constitutes an unheard-of attack on the political expression of third parties.

“The Ford government’s proposal to extend the restrictions on advertising spending by interest groups for the year before the election are very likely unconstitutional because they arbitrarily limit spending too much, and for too long, and impose too many requirements on groups that only spend small amounts,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The restrictions should be cut from Bill 254 or, at the very least, the Ford Cabinet should refer them to the courts, before they become law, for a ruling on whether they are constitutional.”

In May 2012, the B.C. government referred similar proposed third-party restrictions to the B.C. Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal ruled in October 2012 that the restrictions were unconstitutional because they restricted spending on ads as part of a third party’s advocacy on any issue.

The federal government did not restrict spending on issue ads during the pre-election period of 2-3 months when it changed Canada’s election law with Bill C-76 in 2018-2019.  During the pre-election period, the federal law only restricts spending on partisan ads that support or oppose a candidate or party, and the spending limit is meaninglessly high.

“While restricting massive ad campaigns by wealthy interest groups and individuals in the few months leading up to an election is a good, democratic idea, as reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, an independent commission should be set up to study the actual costs of reaching voters to ensure the ad spending limits are realistic, and disclosure and reporting of spending should be easy,” said Conacher.

For more information, please contact:

Melissa Palermo 
Director of Communications 
Ontario Federation of Labour
mpalermo@ofl-org.flywheelsites.com l C: 416-894-3456

Duff Conacher
Co-founder, Democracy Watch
T: 613-241-5179 | C: 416-546-3443