Election advertising laws in B.C. questioned

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Loopholes in election legislation encourage deceitful advertising, says the executive director of government watchdog Integrity B.C.

      Dermod Travis noted that because election advertising is the only form of advertising not governed by provincial, federal, and industry regulations, political parties, candidates, and their supporters can lie to voters without fear of repercussions.

      “It promotes a culture of getting away with whatever you can get away with,” Travis told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      For Travis, that is “unequivocally wrong”.

      Travis shared his opinion following allegations by defeated B.C. NDP candidate Gabriel Yiu that a group that supported the B.C. Liberal Party disseminated misleading information to Chinese voters during the May 14, 2013, election campaign.

      According to Yiu, the Better B.C. Coalition group misrepresented his party’s position on a number of issues, including falsely claiming that New Democrats favour marijuana legalization.

      A spokesperson for the Richmond-based organization, which is registered with Elections B.C. as a third-party advertiser, has strongly denied the accusation. Alice Tang previously told the Straight that Yiu shouldn’t blame anyone for his and the B.C. NDP’s loss.

      Nola Western, deputy chief electoral officer with Elections B.C., explained then that the law’s requirement to provide truthful information doesn’t cover the content of election advertising.

      Although Yiu said he believes that there’s a loophole in the legislation that needs to be plugged, Leonard Krog, B.C. NDP critic for the attorney general, indicated that this wouldn’t be easy.

      According to the Nanaimo MLA, it would be a “bit of a nightmare” to determine who or what body gets to decide what counts as fair or legitimate advertising.

      “I don’t know of any government that wants to start and try to regulate this, necessarily,” Krog told the Straight by phone. “How do you do it, and how do you do it effectively? Are we creating just another bureaucracy?”

      But Krog also raised the question of whether or not legislation should be amended to address the advertising campaign run by another group, the Concerned Citizens for B.C.

      The group was led by Jim Shepard, a former corporate CEO and $1-a-year adviser to B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark. Shepard raised $1 million, and his group then ran attack ads against NDP leader Adrian Dix.

      Shepard’s group ceased operations before the election writ was dropped on April 16, making it exempt from the legal requirement for third-party advertisers to disclose their donors and expenses.

      “They did all of this outside of the election time and therefore we don’t know who donated and who they were,” Krog said.

      Unlike Shepard’s Concerned Citizens for B.C., Tang’s Better B.C. Coalition has to file a disclosure report within 90 days after the May 14, 2013, election.

      SFU communications professor Catherine Murray suggested that maybe it’s time to consider some form of independent monitoring of electoral speech.

      The academic cited as an example the work being done by American political-communication scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. Jamieson helped create FactCheck.org and Flackcheck.org., which are nonpartisan sites that call out lies by U.S. politicians.

      “Legislation is crafted very narrowly,” Murray told the Straight by phone about the limitation of the law in addressing fairness in election advertising.

      Another tool that may be considered is the stand-by-your-ad provision in American election law. It requires candidates to state that they approved of the advertisement, according to Integrity B.C.’s Travis.

      “That is a legal requirement in the U.S., and it was meant to try to turn down the volume, if you will, on negative attacks and misleading ads,” Travis said. “Now the only problem is that only applies to ads being put out by the candidates and the parties and not to ads being put out by third-party groups or Super PACs [political action committees].”




      Jun 27, 2013 at 7:42am

      quote from Canadian Code of Advertising;

      "Political and Election Advertising

      Canadians are entitled to expect that "political advertising" and "election advertising" will respect the standards articulated in the Code. However, it is not intended that the Code govern or restrict the free expression of public opinion or ideas through "political advertising" or "election advertising", which are excluded from the application of this Code."

      And, falsehoods are just a form of free speech according to Peter Van Loan (December 2011). Don't expect facts and truth in political advertising until politicians legislate themselves into actual truth, honesty and demonstrated integrity. I wouldn't hold my breath on this issue.

      A. MacInnis

      Jun 27, 2013 at 12:51pm

      I realize she's the premier again and all (sigh) but could the Straight please refrain from running any photos of Christy Clark smiling over the next month or two, at least? It's kind of salt in the wounds, at this point, and there's plenty enough such shots in other media venues... Every time I visit the website I have to bypass her smiling smug mug. It's upsetting my stomach!

      Mark Latham

      Jun 27, 2013 at 4:31pm

      It's a difficult dilemma: How to improve the quality of voter information, without letting any branch of the government control people's political speech? But there is a new strategy for solving this problem, tested successfully for 6 years in UBC student union elections: Let voters allocate a few thousand dollars of public funds among competing news media that cover an election. Voter-supported media quickly build their reputations for helping voters see through the spin to learn "what this person actually stands for." See the video "How Votermedia Affects Election Campaigns" at http://votermedia.org/videos/3.

      If she opens her mouth she's lying.

      Jun 28, 2013 at 8:40pm

      That's all you need to know.

      Christy Clark has two expressions: ECONOMY! JOBS! and JOBS! ECONOMY!, neither of which she has delivered on.

      Bobsy Twin

      Jun 29, 2013 at 1:49am

      Mark Latham, Votermedia sounds like a great idea, and we should probably insist on it (somehow); ...but this is what reporters, regular citizens, and political debates are for, normally!

      So many politicians worm out of opportunities for showing their true selves, that the general population has started thinking it's normal behaviour.

      People should be very suspect of anyone brazen enough to run, but who slithers away from debates. They make great photo opps, are a free platform to define objectives, and to demonstrate how they think on their feet, and act under pressure.

      Any politician who avoids this kind of normal scrutiny, should be suspected of working for someone other than citizens, and of allowing (or promoting) nefarious dealings - to Canada's detriment.

      The only reason we have governments is to protect people from that kind of thing. Now laws have been changed systematically to put packs of wolves in charge of many hen houses.

      It would be a DREAM if we had a chronlogical printout of all the laws that have been changed or undone in the last 20 or so years.


      Jul 1, 2013 at 11:47am

      "falsely claiming that New Democrats favour marijuana legalization"

      The NDP council passed a resolution calling for legalization in 2006 and have not taken any action to repeal that resolution therefore the claim from Yiu and others is ignorant at best but likely closer to an outright lie. When a candidate for a party is unfamiliar with the policies he/she is representing it is pretty pathetic.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jul 1, 2013 at 12:59pm


      Here is the exact wording of that 2006 resolution:
      BE IT RESOLVED THAT the BC NDP formally establish an explicit cannabis policy based upon a non-punitive, regulatory approach, including support for a legal supply of cannabis, elimination of all penalties for personal cultivation and possession, and amnesty for past cannabis possession convictions.

      Hardly "an outright lie".
      As you are probably well aware, there is a big difference between legalization and decriminalization. And there is a big difference between what is possible in a federal sense and with provincial jurisdiction.
      You are exploiting the same lack of awareness regarding that distinction as were the Liberals with their condescending--and patently false, read "an outright lie"--propaganda.
      "Pretty pathetic."