Editorial: Another affront to democracy

Lest anyone think disregard for democratic practices is the exclusive purview of the federal government, the province has also shown itself willing to slip offensive provisions into budget legislation.

Last week, Law Times expressed outrage over the federal government’s insertion of retroactive changes to the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act into its budget implementation legislation. The changes would oust the application of the Access to Information Act retroactive to Oct. 25, 2011, and include a provision that would shield officials from liability for destroying records after the government passed legislation in 2012 ending the controversial gun registry.

The provincial government, meanwhile, has also landed in hot water for changes to the rules against partisan advertising. Critics say the changes will gut a law hailed as a welcome bar against spending public money on ads promoting the party in power. While the auditor general currently has wide discretion to put a stop to ads promoting the political interests of the party in power, the changes would deem an ad to be partisan only if it contains the name, voice or image of an elected MPP; the name or logo of a recognized party in the legislature; or a colour associated with the governing party “to a significant degree,” according to auditor general Bonnie Lysyk. Last week, according to the Toronto Star, the government added a provision to ban ads that directly identify and criticize a party or MPP.

It’s clear the changes significantly dilute the intent of former premier Dalton McGuinty’s attempt to put a stop to excessively partisan ads put out by the previous government. The province may have some legitimate concern about the broadness of the current rules, but the proposed changes are far too narrow by focusing so much on identifying names.

What’s most offensive about the situation is the use once again of budget legislation to bring in such changes. These aren’t budgetary matters any more than the retroactive gun-registry provisions. While the federal government’s actions are arguably more offensive, both it and the province are wrong to sneak actions affecting our democratic life into their budget laws.
Glenn Kauth

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