Opinion

Editorial — A welcome defeat of gag law

At least one of the election gag laws has been thrown out.

The B.C. Court of Appeal has decided that an attempt by the provincial government to control free speech in the period before a provincial election isn’t constitutional. This after the government tried several times to restrict how much money third parties can spend in the 60-day window before an election campaign officially begins. An attempt by Victoria to cut that down to 40 days didn’t work either.

Governments and political parties have interfered in the election process far too much. Elections are not the property of politicians — they are the property of citizens. They are the one chance that citizens have to determine who is in power, what policies will be brought in and what changes can be worked towards.

Yet at the federal and provincial level, election spending has been restricted for years. Not only are individual candidates restricted in their spending, which does at least level the playing field a bit, but individuals, businesses, unions and interest groups have severe restrictions on how much they can spend to send messages to voters.

This is what the province was trying to do in the pre-election period — mainly to cut off messages from anti-government groups. The BC Liberals were aiming at the B.C. Government Employees Union and the B.C. Teachers Federation, who ran pungent anti-government messages before the 2009 election officially began.

Individuals, organizations and  businesses should have every right to spend money before and during campaigns.

Much is being said at present about the 25th anniversary of free trade. The 1988 federal election was fought on that issue. During it, both pro- and anti-free trade organizations spent a lot of money to get their messages out.

It was a hard-fought election, on one big issue, and the additional messages from all the third parties were an integral part of the debate.

It’s good that the Court of Appeal has struck down restrictions during the pre-election period. It would be nice if a court would strike down the restrictions which apply during federal and provincial elections as well. The only purpose they serve is to keep the election process dominated by political parties, and to severely restrict the rights of citizens during what should be a free-ranging debate.

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