Gag-law limits about to take effect in B.C.

Unless it’s struck down as unconstitutional by the B.C. Supreme Court, B.C. Liberal legislation described by critics as a gag on free speech will take effect on February 13.

Bill 42 states that any individual or organization other than a candidate, a registered political party, or a constituency association must spend no more than $150,000 on advertising in the 88 days prior to an election. Also known as the Election Amendment Act, 2008, the law has the ability to impose stiff fines of 10 times the amount overspent.

“We will be trying to use some other methods to get our message out,” Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, told the Straight.

The BCTF was one of seven labour unions that filed a legal challenge in July 2008 questioning the constitutionality of Bill 42 before the B.C. Supreme Court.

In December, a B.C. Supreme Court judge denied the group’s application for an injunction.

The law would allow a political party to spend $1.1 million in the 60-day precampaign period and $4.4 million during the 28-day campaign period.

Individual candidates would be able to shell out up to $70,000 during the 60-day period before the start of the campaign, and another $70,000 during the campaign period.

Lanzinger said that leading up to the May 12 election the BCTF will rely heavily on its 41,000 members to spread the message that the Liberal government has underfunded education, resulting in school closures, oversized classes, and a lack of support for students with special needs. She said that her group will also use methods like rallies, speaking out at candidates meetings, and electronic communications to do this.

In a phone interview on January 30, lawyer Joseph Arvay, the counsel representing the unions, said he has written the court to ask it to render its decision before February 13, the day the bill would take effect.

“But we just don’t know whether the judge will be able to do that,” Arvay told the Straight.




Feb 5, 2009 at 12:39pm

Of course the unions don't like this, because it means they can't influence elections by pouring huge amounts of cash into the coffers of a particular party.

I think this is a good thing in order to reduce the influence of special interests in government. Politicians should win elections on the basis of their ideas and platform, not based on buying millions of dollars of smear ads.

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Feb 14, 2009 at 1:06am

montyvan, this unconstitutional law is having a chilling effect (ie. self-censorship) on anyone holding almost any kind of politically charged event in the leadup to the election. there is a spending limit of just $3,000 per riding not mentioned in this article. and regardless of any monetary threshold, forcing people to 'register' in order to express political views smacks of totalitarianism.

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Feb 17, 2009 at 8:48pm

montyvan - - - your comment regarding "special interests" shows a true ignorance of ones democratic rights. With the threat of losing the May 12.09 election looming over their heads like the sword of Damocles, the BC Liberals have chosen to deny any and all British Columbians their democratic right to voice opposition of the incumbent political party.

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