01/23/2018 07:29 EST | Updated 01/23/2018 07:40 EST

Coalition of unions fights Ontario rules on election advertising spending

TORONTO — A coalition of Ontario unions that has spent millions on attack ads targeting Progressive Conservatives during past election campaigns is fighting a Liberal law that limits how much third parties can spend on election advertising.

The Working Families group has filed a constitutional challenge against Bill 2, alleging the law that took effect last year infriges on its rights to free expression and free association.

The group says the law effectively restricts how organizations and individuals can participate in the election process.

Under the law, both political parties and the special interest groups known as third parties have caps on how much they can spend on political advertising during election campaigns and in the six months leading up to them.

It's the first time third parties, who have exerted considerable influence in past elections, have spending limits.

A spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General says the government believes the rules comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"The government's objectives regarding pre-writ third party advertising rules were to level the playing field in election contests that now arise in a fixed election date environment, well in advance of formal election campaigns," the spokesman said, noting that the rules also aim to ensure debate on key issues is not "unduly stifled."

In its application to the court, Working Families said it wants the provisions related to third-party spending struck down.

Its spokesman, Patrick Dillon, alleges the law unfairly targets such groups and restricts how they can bring issues before the public.

"The restrictions placed on groups like Working Families are designed to stifle free speech and participation at the most crucial time, during an election," he said in a statement.

"We have a situation currently where the issue of the minimum wage is a concern to the labour movement," he said. "Under the new law, if two labour groups raise this issue in support of a minimum wage increase, are they violating the rules? Does it mean we can't share information? Does it mean that any money we spend on this issue is going to be counted as part of our limits? The way the current law is written raises serious concerns."

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