Parliament has passed a bill which will gag politically active groups such as Campaign Life Coalition.
Under the Tories’ election reform bill, only political parties and candidates will have the freedom to do partisan advertising during election campaigns. Other groups or individuals will be allowed to spend no more than $1,000 on advertising which identifies or promotes particular parties or candidates. That limit –$1,000—will apply to a group’s entire efforts nation-wide. It is so small, that if really constitutes a ban on such activity.
The legislation is similar to a federal law which was passed in 1983. The National Citizen’s Coalition challenged the constitutionality of that law in the courts, and it was struck down because it infringed on the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Charter of Rights. The National Citizen’s Coalition has promised that they will once again launch a Court challenge.
What was particularly nefarious in the debate over this bill was the rationale being used to promote it. Supporters of the bill argued that no one should be allowed to buy an election and that the present lack of regulation means that well-financed lobby groups have an unfair ability to distort election results through the use of large scale advertising campaigns.
Any democratically minded person will whole-heartedly support a law which prevents wealthy interests from having undue influence in elections. The problem is that this legislation does not do that. What it will accomplish is to effectively exclude from the election process groups, such as Campaign Life Coalition, which represent controversial viewpoints.
If any reformer wants to put a stop to the ability of a wealthy powerful elite to buy elections, they should turn their attention to the financing of political parties. At present the federal Liberal and Conservative parties receive over half of their funding from corporations and business organizations. Such bodies obviously share a common political agenda which they expect those political parties to promote.
To put that figure of fifty percent in perspective, consider this: the federal NDP, which is often seen as being at the beck and call of the unions, receives just thirty percent of its funding from unions.
Under this legislation, the only other body which would be allowed to have a meaningful role in a Canadian election would be the mass media. They of course cannot be stopped from influencing how people think about political issues and individual politicians. Virtually every daily newspaper, television station and radio outlet in this country is owned or controlled by large corporate interests.
Very clearly, those who can buy elections in this country have already done so through the political parties. The truly wealthy and powerful in this county usually do not need special interest groups to do their job for them.
This legislation disenfranchises the less powerful – those groups and individuals who have no major political party at their beck and call, and people whose views are not usually championed by the mainstream media. These are the very people who are largely blocked out of the present political power structure. Yet they are the very ones who this legislation will gag.
The right of individual citizens to join together in politically active groups and t o have meaningful impact on elections is crucial in a truly democratic country. The supporters of this kind of legislation, are really trying to ensure that political power remains in the hands of political parties.
If the promoters of this bill were sincere about wanting to prevent wealthy special interest groups from having an undue influence in elections, there was an obvious route for them to take. The financing and the election-time expenditures of political action campaigns run by groups such as Campaign Life Coalition, could have been made subject to the same kind of rules now put on political parties. Realistic spending and donation limits could have been proposed.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the real purpose of this legislation is to ensure that the major political parties continue to control the political agenda in Canada. It will most certainly ensure that pro-life Canadians are left without an effective voice at election time.