Politics

Third-Party Election Advertising Ban About Silencing Workers

Ford's stunt isn't about 'protecting democracy'. It's about suppressing the voices of those who have the least power, by silencing the organizations that collectively represent them.

By Chantal Mancini
Published June 29, 2021

Why are unions and other progressives so upset about Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his government invoking Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the "notwithstanding clause") to shut down third-party advertising for a full year before a provincial election?

First, this law wasn't intended for this purpose. But that's not the prime reason.

Unions are a collective voice for working people. Are they perfect? No. Far from it. But in general, they provide a collective counterpoint to the power of big business, despite that Conservatives like Ford like to paint their elected leaders as 'union bosses' in order to distract from the actual bosses who control worker salaries and working conditions.

Widening Inequality

We know that income inequality has ballooned. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and workers' share of the economic pie has shrunk significantly with overall union decline (particularly in the private sector).

But the power of big business and the rich has grown. They have way more individual and collective resources than workers, way more to donate during elections. Ford has made this easier for wealthy corporate executives and owners, by tripling the personal campaign donation limit.

Unions represent an organized, institutional framework for pooled worker resources. They are a collective voice for workers. And when they take on broader social issues, they help marginalized people beyond their own ranks.

So no, we're not debating 'equal access' to third-party advertising here for corporate interests too. Because that assumes corporations - and the rich people behind them - are on the same playing field as workers.

They're not.

Workers Need Unions

At the individual level, workers have significantly less power. They need unions. And unions need to be their voice during elections.

They need this voice because governments become beholden to corporate interests and profit for the rich. Because the rich use their power to elect governments that guard their wealth at the expense of things like labour, racial, environmental and social justice.

We need governments that care about people first, not corporate profit. And if unions can't engage in independent third-party advertising to get the issues into the public, getting the message out is left to individuals. And only those with resources have any opportunity.

So Ford's stunt isn't about 'protecting democracy'. It's about suppressing the voices of those who have the least power, by silencing the organizations that collectively represent them.

Chantal Mancini is a secondary school teacher in Hamilton and a Ph.D. candidate in the McMaster University School of Labour Studies. Chantal studies teachers and their unions. Parent. Lover of #Hamont. Gardener. Allegedly bakes the best banana bread in the world. She/her.

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