British Columbia’s largest public-sector union is taking court action to fight a fine of more than $3 million for illegal election advertising.
Elections B.C. issued the financial penalty last month against the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union for advertising that ran during two recent byelection campaigns.
Elections B.C. determined the union had exceeded the election advertising spending limit by $318,000—around $159,000 for each electoral district.
Under provincial legislation, the expense limit for third-party advertisers during a byelection is $3,100 per electoral district.
Elections B.C. calculated the fine in accordance with the Election Act as ten times the amount spent above the advertising limit in each riding.
The penalties also saw the BCGEU deregistered as an election advertising sponsor until after the next provincial election in May 2013.
The BCGEU advertisement started running provincewide on March 19, three days before byelections were called in the Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody-Coquitlam ridings.
The television advertisement suggests workers in the union have suffered from government cuts and wage freezes over the past decade.
The BCGEU is asking the B.C. Supreme Court to overturn Elections B.C.'s decision on the penalties.
In its court petition, the BCGEU argues the advertisement should not have been designated as election advertising.
The union claims it was related to its collective bargaining process with the B.C. government and did not promote or oppose any political parties.
“The ads were a simple message to our members and the public that our members are falling behind, they haven’t had wage increases for a number of years, and that they deserve a fair and reasonable agreement,” BCGEU spokesperson Chris Bradshaw told the Straight.
Bradshaw said the union did not know when the byelections would be called and pulled the advertisement after being in contact with Elections B.C.
“It begs the question—You know, how can a union or any organization really effectively communicate with its members and the public during a critical period of bargaining if we are prohibited from doing so by government legislation?” he said.
Elections B.C. declined to comment on the BCGEU’s legal challenge because the matter is before the courts.
Meanwhile, the B.C. Liberals criticized the union for appealing to the courts instead of accepting Elections B.C.’s decision.
“It’s no secret the BCGEU would prefer to have a B.C. NDP government, but that’s no excuse for breaking the rules,” Liberal MLA John Les said in a statement.
“When the by-elections were called the BCGEU had a choice to pull their ads in support of the B.C. NDP, instead they decided the rules didn’t apply to them.”
Bradshaw, the BCGEU spokesperson, rebuffed the criticism, saying the Liberals are “playing politics” with the issue.
In April, the B.C. New Democrats defeated the Conservatives and the Liberals in both the Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody-Coquitlam byelections.