On June 7th, 2018, Ontario will hold its 42nd general election. It is not yet clear what issues will be dominant in the election when it comes to either voter attention or party platforms. Freedom of Expression may, however, play a strategic behind-the-scenes role in everything that happens.
Many voters may have forgotten that the current Liberal government passed new elections regulations in the fall of 2017. In an article appearing via McLeans on November 22, 2017 Christine Van Geyn wrote,
Political free speech is in need of a champion in Canada—and new advertising laws in two of Canada’s most populous provinces prove it.
In 2016, Ontario broadened the definition of political advertising to de facto include any and all political speech. Any individual or organization in Ontario that spends more than $500 to publicize their position on an “issue that can reasonably be regarded as closely associated with a registered party or its leader” is now engaging in political advertising.
Van Geyn is the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a non-profit citizen-based advocacy organization focused on lower taxes, less government waste, and greater accountability. In her article, Van Geyn points out that “laws aimed at regulating the pre-campaign period are troubling, and—if history is any suggestion—they are in all likelihood a Charter violation.”
Meanwhile, in an article published by McLeans on that same day in November, Aaron Hutchins pointed out
The CTF has also been asked to look into its site’s 20-year online history, somehow pro-rate the amount it has spent mentioning Ontario to see if it passed the $500 threshold during the set time periods. Some things are exempt from the cost tally, such as news releases and opinion-editorials, but any work done on site graphics, for example, is not.
Political free speech appears to face new regulation and financial limits – whether most Ontarians are fully aware of it or not. What of a website which points out an issue which might reasonably be considered a political policy or election issue?
Take, for example, the inconsistency of the Ontario government when it comes to systemic faithism. The Ontario government seems to reject systemic faithism on its Human Rights Commission website yet the government and premier remain committed to funding of Ontario’s Catholic School system. Would this website’s coverage of the issue be considered political advertising? Indeed would any blogged political opinion not possibly be considered political advertising?
Lest this article be taken as a partisan political piece, let it be understood that all three of the major political parties elected to office in recent decades have tolerated and maintained funding of the Catholic school system. The situation appears to be…..systemic.