B.C. Liberals try election gag law again

Premier Christy Clark's government wants to limit pre-election advertising spending

The B.C. Liberal government is attempting to restore limits on third-party election spending that were struck down by a judge before the 2009 provincial election.

Attorney General Shirley Bond has introduced amendments that would put limits on spending by unions, business groups and other non-party advertisers in the 40 days before the official start of an election campaign. A previous 60-day limit was challenged by seven public-sector unions, led by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, and rejected by a B.C. Supreme Court judge as an unjustified restriction on freedom of speech.

Premier Christy Clark said some spending limit on the pre-campaign period is justified, since the province went to scheduled elections in 2005. Current rules restrict party and non-party spending during a formal 28-day election campaign, but contain no limits on spending before that period.

The government intends to submit the proposed 40-day restriction to the B.C. Supreme Court before it takes effect. If a judge approves, the new restrictions would apply for the election set for May 2013.

NDP justice critic Leonard Krog said the latest effort will likely be challenged and rejected again. If the B.C. Liberals want to reform election spending, they should ban corporate and union donations to political parties as the NDP and B.C. Conservative parties have advocated, Krog said.

In 2008, the B.C. Liberal government passed amendments to the B.C. Elections Act limiting spending by non-party advocacy groups to no more than $150,000 in the 60 days before the official 28-day election campaign. Registered political parties were restricted to spending $2.2 million during that time.