Friday, January 21, 2005

Small blessings. Big battles.

Babble on.

Regular readers (and I now have to remove both socks to count you all) will be pleased to learn I have received my first press release. Looks like Bob got it too. Of course, he's [jamesearljonesvoice] BOB TARANTINO [/jamesearljonesvoice], so I expect him to be in the loop. But me? I'm blushing.

To the good news, though: Gerry Nicholls and his fine crew at the National Citizens Coalition have just won a three-year legal battle with Elections Canada. Charges regarding an advertisement run by the NCC were dropped suddenly by the federal election watchdog, and although they didn't seem to feel the move was newsworthy, it most certainly was. Why did they drop the charges? As Gerry stated on his own blog earlier today:

Why did Elections Canada suddenly offer us a way out? Easy. They knew the NCC would kick their butts in court.

Thank heaven for small victories. Well, small in terms of the bigger picture. This entire episode is just a sideshow to the main event: repealing the federal election gag law. While I certainly wouldn't want to impugn the *cough POLITICAL* motives of Elections Canada, I wonder if any of the folks in Ottawa who trumped up this charge almost four years back considered the fact that a protracted legal battle would tie up time, effort, and money that the NCC would rather be spending to get the election gag law overturned? Nah. That would be dirty play, and we all know Liberals are as pure as the driven frickin' snow, right?

The NCC is a self-described 'conservative' organization - although they meticulously refuse to accept government or political party money, and go so far as to forgo tax-deductible status - but their fight against the election gag law should attract support across political lines.

Gay rights groups, anti-poverty groups, environmental groups, human rights groups, organized labour groups, anti-war groups - pretty much any group with ideas even the left supports is effectively barred from putting those ideas into the mainstream with advertising during an election. Not to mention conservative organizations. Want to talk tax relief, free trade, defence spending, foreign aid, smaller government, private healthcare? Sorry, but during an election, you're not allowed to spend enough money to make your point to the Canadian public.

Oops - that's not quite right: political parties can pay a king's ransom for their own propaganda once the writ is dropped.

...whereas a political party can spend up to $12 million on a national election ad campaign, the gag law restricts "Third Parties" -- ie non-politicians – to a mere $150,000.

Now you don’t have to be an advertising executive to understand that $150,000 is not a lot of money when it comes to mounting a national media campaign in a country the size of Canada. In fact, it’s an absurdly low amount.


Nor is the gag law just about spending limitations; it also says if you or your group wants to spend more than $500 on election advertising you must first get permission from Elections Canada. If the Chief Electoral Officer turns your request down, you have to keep quiet.

I'm a member in good standing of the CPC, but I have absolutely no desire for the CPC brain-trust to speak for me - exclusively - during an election.

This is an issue that seems to fall out of the public eye between elections, but it shouldn't. Once an election is called, it's too late to do anything about it.

How did we get into this pickle? The Liberal government passed a draconian law, and the Supreme Court decided our right to free speech was trumped by the nebulous idea that voters might be oppressed - that's the word they used - by third-party advertising. Writing for the majority, Mr. Justice Michel Bastarache said:

“While the right to political expression lies at the core of the guarantee of free expression and warrants a high degree of constitutional protection, there is nevertheless a danger that political advertising may manipulate or oppress the voter.”

By that logic, newspapers should be gagged as well. Can anyone reasonably argue that the endorsement of a particular candidate by an editorial board - common practice in Canadian elections - isn't as manipulative and oppressive as an advertisment? When you consider Jane and Joe Canuck seem to want to cling to the outdated notion that journalists are impartial observers of the political process, and as a result are more likely to swallow journalists' biases hook, line and sinker, mainstream media may be more oppressive and manipulative than interest groups.

At least advertising is honest partisanship.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to say it, but under our current laws, I could write an article for the *spit* Toronto Star that claims *spit* Jack Layton is the second coming of Christ, but I'd get charged for paying them to print exactly the same words in exactly the same paper.

Justice McLaughlin wrote more reasonably for the minority in dissent:

McLaughlin called the limits "draconian" and noted "the law at issue sets advertising spending limits for citizens . . . at such low levels that they cannot effectively communicate with their fellow citizens on election issues during the election campaign."

She added, "Political speech, the type of speech here at issue, is the single most important and protected type of expression. It lies at the core of the guarantee of free expression."

And finally, the dissenters noted that gag laws, "have a chilling effect on political speech forcing citizens into a Hobson’s choice between not expressing themselves at all or having their voice reduced to a mere whisper."

Hear, hear. Except, under this law, you won't hear. Support the NCC - left, right, or mushy middle - because we all have a dog in this fight.

Babble off.


At 6:44 p.m., Blogger Greg said...

No surprise here, I support the ban on third party advertising during elections. I you don't like what the parties are saying form your own party and stick to the financing laws, or get involved in your own party and fight for you message. Third party advertising (be it from unions or tax cuts and more tax cuts outfits like the NCC) is bad for the usual reasons. It tilts the balance of the advertising war to thems thats gots the money, rather than thems thats gots the message. I know you disagree with me on this, but I gotta keep trying. :)


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