The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is being accused of potentially breaking “third party” political advertising spending limits by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

According to 2018 Ontario election finance laws “third parties” were limited to spending a combined total of $712,600 on advertising before and during the campaign period.

Third parties are registered actors who are not political parties themselves.

According to financial disclosures submitted by both parties, the ETFO broke finance laws by overspending a total of $17,250 on advertising when considering its donations to Fight for $15 and Fairness, another registered third party who advocates for the minimum wage.

The advertisements were intended to target the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

The Ontario Election Finances Act prohibits collusion between multiple third parties to circumvent finance limits.

“No third party shall circumvent, or attempt to circumvent, a limit set out in this section in any manner…or acting in collusion with another third party so that their combined political advertising expenses exceed the applicable,” states a section of the bill.

ETFO President Sam Hammond claims that the federation has not broken the law and has followed all the rules that pertain to political advertising.

“The [Election Finances] Act permits contributions by a trade union to a third party for political advertising. The Act also permits trade unions to conduct their own political advertising,” he told the CBC after the allegations came to light.

Christine Van Geyn, the Ontario Director for The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, claims that Hammond’s explanation doesn’t add up.

“This is a preposterous interpretation of the law. By ETFO’s logic it can donate millions to other third parties with impunity. This isn’t the case. ETFO is free to donate to third parties but then it cannot be a third party itself and run their own ads,” Van Geyn told The Post Millennial.

“Donations between third parties is a clear violation of the collusion provisions. It also isn’t even consistent with the explanation by 15 and Fairness, who said the donation wasn’t for advertising.”

According to a Twitter thread by lawyer Ryan O’Connor, $15 and Fairness was engaged in political advertising exceeding the $500 limit through lawn signs and banners before being registered as a third party.

Section 37.5 of the Elections Finances Act clearly states that, “a third party shall apply for registration under this section immediately after having incurred expenses of a total amount of $500 for third party political advertising.”

According to Elections Ontario $15 and Fairness wasn’t registered as an official third party until June 7, 2018. However, its financial disclosures show that the group was accumulating costs greater than $500 as early as October 2017.

The group also solicited donations from other third parties for the purposes of advertising before registering themselves, which is also a violation of the act. These donations came from the Ontario Federation for Labour and CUPE Ontario.

Fight for $15 and Fairness coordinator Pam Frache told Elections Ontario that the inclusion of the ETFO donation in its spending report was an error and the money was intended for community organizing and not political advertising.

“If 15 and Fairness is blurring the lines between what is community organizing and what is advertising, why would we accept their explanation that the ETFO money was for “community organizing”? It appears as though this organization doesn’t know the difference, or that it is conveniently confused,” said Christine Van Geyn.

Several groups and individuals including The Canadian Taxpayers Federation oppose the political advertising spending limits.

Currently the legislation is being challenged in court by The Working Families union coalition who claim that the law is unconstitutional.

“It is our position that the current third party advertising rules in Ontario are a Charter violation, and should be struck down in the courts,” said Van Geyn.

“It’s frustrating for our organization to see the kind of conduct ETFO and 15 and Fairness engaged in, when we would have loved to continue our advocacy work but were silenced. In our view, the law should be struck down. But third parties who object to the law can’t have their cake and eat it too.”

According to Van Geyn, because of its opposition to the law, The Canadian Taxpayers Federation doesn’t intend to file any formal complaints against any organization that might have violated it.