All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
I expect politicians on the left of the political spectrum to despise free speech. It’s a foundational tenet of their belief systems – that only approved speech must be permitted and leftists are, naturally, the only ones capable of being the arbiters of ‘permitted speech’.
Justin Trudeau’s Bill C-10 and Bill C-35 crystalize this Liberal governments desperate need to control every waking thought of Canada’s mere citizens. What horrified me was how fast the NDP, Greens and Bloc Québécois jumped at the opportunity to support these broad-based censorship measures.
But when supposedly conservative politicians embrace this censorious nonsense, as Ontario Premier Doug Ford did with Bill 254, how do I explain that away?
Well, I can’t. I don’t think anyone else can either, at least not with a straight face.
Canada’s election spending laws are already absurdly restrictive.
While we’ve had third-party election spending laws for more than ten years, in 2018 the Liberal government passed Bill C-76, which dramatically reduced the ability of concerned citizen groups to make their case during an election.
At the federal level, if an organization wants to spend money to advance their cause during an election, they must register with Elections Canada and follow strict guidelines and costly reporting requirements or face the wrath of these unelected bureaucrats in court.
Political parties are exempt from these laws when, as Justin Trudeau is doing now, that Party advertising takes place before the Writ is actually dropped.
The delay in calling the election is just another ploy to waste taxpayer money instead of Party funds, because Trudeau’s spending announcements are supposedly “the government helping Canadians” and not crass political opportunism on the public’s dime.
If only there weren’t so many gullible voters this crass use of public money for partisan purposes would end. But there are, so it won’t.
Back to Doug Ford’s electoral censorship law, introduced as Bill 254, Protecting Ontario Elections Act, 2021, which received Royal Assent on April 19, 2021. (Ironically, April 19th is called Tyranny Day because so many government abuses of power were imposed on this day throughout history.)
Like so many legislative efforts, Bill 254’s title means the opposite of what the Bill actually does. Bill 254 doesn’t protect elections, it protects an incumbent government from facing criticism from third parties for a full year prior to an election.
Call it what you like, Mr. Ford, but this is censorship and the trampling of our right to free speech.
Bill 254 dramatically expands the regulation and restriction of individuals and groups, 3rd parties who want to share their message, during an election.
While the amount a 3rd party may spend has not change, Doug Ford expanded the restriction period to a full year in advance of an election, as well as during the election period itself.
Like the federal Liberals did in 2018, Doug Ford added onerous new reporting requirements for 3rd parties.
In addition to a final spending report, including all contributions they received, third parties must now provide interim reports to Elections Ontario every time they spend or commit to spending $1,000 on political advertising. These reports must be submitted throughout the year leading up to the election, as well as during the election period itself.
The process is the punishment, as outlined in Bill 254:
No combination to exceed limit
(3) No third party shall circumvent, or attempt to circumvent, a limit set out in this section in any manner, including by,
(a) acting in collusion with another third party so that their combined political advertising expenses exceed the applicable limit;
(b) splitting itself into two or more third parties;
(c) colluding with, including sharing information with, a registered party, registered constituency association, registered candidate, registered leadership contestant, or registered nomination contestant or any of their agents or employees for the purpose of circumventing the limit;
(d) sharing a common vendor with one or more third parties that share a common advocacy, cause or goal;
(e) sharing a common set of political contributors or donors with one or more third parties that share a common advocacy, cause or goal;
(f) sharing information with one or more third parties that share a common advocacy, cause or goal; or
(g) using funds obtained from a foreign source prior to the issue of a writ for an election.
Given some of this nonsense, it’s easy to see why a judge struck down parts of Bill 254 as unconstitutional.
The only rational explanation is that conservative politicians, before coming into power, claim to believe our Charter rights must be upheld, no matter how distasteful someone’s speech may be. Upon seizing power, the tables turn almost instantly and those former proponents of free speech now must, like their socialist counterparts, control what ordinary Canadians can say in public.
Gerry Nicholls, writing in The Hill Times, ridiculed conservatives for their lack of backbone in a column published June 17th, 2021.
Maybe the official motto for Canada’s conservative political parties should be, “We Like to Take the Easy Way Out.”
After all, it seems to me conservative politicians in this country prefer to avoid tough battles.
Consider, for instance, how federal Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole recently performed an “if you can’t beat them join them” tactical manoeuvre when he opted to meekly drop his fight against Liberal-style carbon taxes.
Or if you want an even more egregious example of a Conservative politician taking the easy way out, there’s Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who, rather than battling his opponents, fair and square, decided instead to silence them, using the heavy-handed power of the state.
Now before I go on, let me say this legal battle never should have occurred in the first place.
I say that because Ontario has a conservative government and one of the things conservatives are supposed to stand for is individual freedom, including the right to free election speech.
My point is, as a good conservative, Ford should have voluntarily repealed Ontario’s gag law on principle; he should have let freedom reign.
But he didn’t.
And that’s a problem for anyone who believes in standing on principle, something which both Doug Ford and Erin O’Toole seem incapable.
Andrew Coyne likewise excoriated Doug Ford for his use of the Notwithstanding Clause to save his censorious legislation in his June 16th column in The Globe and Mail:
Is it good law? Does it respect freedom of speech? Was the judge wrong to overturn it? In brief: No, no and no. It’s a terrible piece of legislation, far beyond its brazen attempt to muzzle the government’s critics. The judge was right to toss it out, but in truth it should never have passed.
Recall that the particular section before the court, limiting pre-election advertising by “third-party” groups – unions, corporations, activists of all kinds – is but one of several troubling provisions in the bill. Passed earlier this year, it raised the limits on individual contributions to nearly three times the level set by the previous Liberal government. In addition, it enriched the public subsidy to which the parties are entitled, another Liberal-era reform, which Mr. Ford had promised to abolish.
So while the Ford government defends the limits on third parties in terms of the need to keep “big money” out of Ontario elections, in fact it is content that Ontario elections should be awash in big money – as long as it’s the right kind.
The idea that a group of citizens who care deeply about an issue should be prevented from bringing these concerns to public attention is disturbing enough, even during an election campaign. But that they would be similarly proscribed for six months, or a whole year, is frankly incredible.
More to the point, it’s unnecessary.
Whether you love or hate Ford’s use of the Notwithstanding Clause, the larger point is Doug Ford should side with liberty and free speech but does not.
Instead, Doug Ford sided with Justin Trudeau and every other censorious politician who, like every three-year-old ever, wants what they want when they want it, and will scream and cry until they get it.
Doug Ford was supposed to be better than this.
In reality, he’s no better than any other opportunistic, self-serving politician.
The bigger problem is he will probably get away with his liberty-despising antics and win a majority government when the next election comes around.
And who will we have to blame for that?