Ontario's top court strikes down third-party election ad spending rules

TORONTO — Ontario's top court has struck down third-party election advertising rules introduced by Premier Doug Ford's government as unconstitutional.

Before 2021, third parties were allowed to spend up to $600,000 on advertising in the six months before an election call, but that year the government stretched the pre-election restricted spending period to one year while not increasing the amount.

The Progressive Conservative government argued the extended restriction was necessary to protect elections from outside influence, but critics said it amounted to the government trying to silence criticism ahead of the 2022 provincial election.

The law was found unconstitutional on free speech grounds, so the government reintroduced the provisions using the notwithstanding clause, a section of the Charter that guards against constitutional challenges.

A coalition of third parties, including teachers' unions, challenged that reintroduced law, and Ontario's Court of Appeal has now sided with them.

The court writes in its ruling that in this case, the third parties argued the law violated a different section of the Charter – one not subject to the notwithstanding clause – on a voter's right to meaningful participation in the electoral process.

The judges agreed, in a split decision, and gave the government one year to create new, Charter-compliant, legislation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2023.

The Canadian Press