Thursday, May 22, 2008

Campbell betrays principles with election gag law

It’s a bit much to hear Gordon Campbell claim the Liberals’ election gag law is needed to reduce the influence of big money in politics.
Campbell opposes any limits on political contributions. A forest company is free to give $1 million to the Liberals.
But under the proposed law, citizens who wanted to make forest policy an issue ina riding would be limited to spending $3,000 on advertising in the five months leading up to next May’s election.
And Campbell passionately, even ferociously, denounced a 1995 effort by the NDP to bring in a similar law limiting third-party advertising during an election campaign. (That is, advertising by anyone except political parties and candidates.)
“A gag order on third-party interests is simply wrong,” Campbell said . “This government has a record of restricting freedom of speech and this is simply another example of that record.”
What’s different? Then, the New Democrats’ gag law was aimed at preventing business groups from buying ads questioning their record during the imminent election campaign. (It was overturned by the courts and repealed by the Liberals.)
Now, the Liberal gag law is aimed at silencing unions or other critics in the same way.
There are differences. The NDP bill limited spending to $5,000, but only covered the election campaign period.
The Liberals’ gag law covers the five months before an election. It limits third parties to spending $150,000 across the province, or $3,000 in any individual riding.
Campbell pointed to those differences while trying to defend his flip-flop. But his opposition in 1995 wasn’t about the amounts. The Liberals opposed silencing citizens on principle.
In fact, some sort of third-party spending limits do make sense. Otherwise, a group or organization with big money could have an inordinate influence on an election campaign. Once they establish that influence, they could also have a lot of influence over the political party they backed. Otherwise, perhaps the money wouldn’t be there next time.
The trick is to get the balance right, setting limits that allow effective free speech while ensuring that elections aren’t decided by those able to spend the most.
The Liberal bill doesn’t come close to meeting that test. The $150,000 limit on advertising — $30,000 a month — isn’t enough to raise an issue across the province. The political parties are allowed to spend $6.6 million each during the same period.
And the riding limit is worse. There is no way a group can raise an issue effectively on a $3,000 ad budget. Individual candidates are allowed to spend 45 times that much to reach voters with their messages.
Whether it’s citizens concerned about the release of land from tree farm licences, or aquaculture companies worried that their practices are being unfairly criticized, the $3,000 limit denies them the right to raise their concerns in a local campaign.
That’s one of the things that’s striking about the Liberals’ bill. The opposition is strong from left, right and most points in between. B.C. unions launched an ad campaign against the bill — a pretty good one, featuring pictures of people with their mouths taped closed and the headline, “Gordon Campbell wants you to just shut up.”
But business leaders — like Phil Hochstein, of the association representing non-union construction associations — also oppose the bill. So do the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and other groups.
Across Canada, there has been a movement to limit the influence of big political donors. The federal government, as one example, has banned union and business donations and limited individual contributions.
Campbell doesn’t want any limits. If Teck Cominco wants to give $118,000 to the Liberals, as it did last year, that’s OK, as long as the donation is reported.
But he does want to limit the public’s right to raise issues in an election campaign, and is prepared to force the bill through the legislature without debate.
Footnote: Are the Liberals worried about the next election? As well as the gag law, the same bill includes measures that will deny homeless people and those without photo identification from voting. Elections BC says there’s no voting fraud problem; it wants to encourage more voters. The bill looks like a crude attempt to protect Liberal candidates in close ridings by denying the poor the chance to vote.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

What principals?nskrid

Gazetteer said...

Paul--

As you may know I see that footnote as a particularly egregious aspect of this legislation for two reasons.

First it is a strategy that has been used successfully to 'protect' incumbents by a certain political party to the south.

Second, it is profoundly undemocratic and is actually the exact opposite to what Elections BC recommended.

I add the link from Jody Paterson's excellent Victoria Times-Colonist piece on this issue for those interested.

DL said...

Gordo keeps getting away by doing what he wants. A majority of Bc citizens go right along with him. If he wants to stop protest he comes up with a law to do so. Wake up folks, we are being used.And will keep being used as long as the guy runs this province into the ground.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how Teck Cominco donating $118,000 the Liberals is terrible for democracy, but the BCTF running a 2.5 million dollar propaganda campaign during an election is great for democracy. Or how a business donating $10,000 to the Liberals is bad, but a several hundred thousand dollar advertising campaigns run by unions are great for democracy.

Anonymous said...

Wow there Mr. 11:38 AM. Part of the BC Liberals media tracking/spin/dirty tricks team are we?? As stated in the article the bills flaws are obvious and opposition is coming from all parts of the spectrum. You cant play this off as big bad Union threatening BC. Give it up.