The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is calling on the provincial government of British Columbia to eliminate third party advertising restrictions on advertising 120 days before and during an election campaign. These restrictions are outlined in Bill 42, the Election Amendment Act.
There are currently no legal restrictions on the amounts that third parties can spend on advertising to promote a particular issue, candidate or party. Bill 42 would impose limits of $3,000 per electoral district and $150,000 overall during this period of time. The bill would also impose severe financial penalties for exceeding the limits and prohibit sponsorship of advertising.
BCCLA President Rob Holmes: “This attempt to manipulate and control what people hear in the four months leading up to an election is patently offensive to democratic principles. While banning advertising by concerned citizens and groups, the government gives itself free rein to fill the airwaves and newspapers with “feel good” advertising promoting itself at public expense and promote itself further with taxpayer-subsidized political contributions. Governments should be held to account at all times through free and full public debate. People should be trusted to make informed judgements. Politicians need to remember that they are public servants and the people are the masters, not the other way around.”
Given the cost of advertising in major radio, TV and print media, the advertising restrictions would prevent any individual or group from any effective advertising campaign regarding the election. In the last provincial election, the BC Teachers Federation spent $1.55 million on ads, the Hospital Employees Union spent $550,000 and the B.C. Nurses’ Union $250,000. The B.C. Liberal party reported spending $10.5 million. Bill 42 would allow the government, through its status as a “registered political party” and its slate of candidates, to spend more than $12 million.
The BCCLA intervened in a successful constitutional challenge to election advertising restrictions in 1998 under the previous NDP government.