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Federal Limits on Advertising Spending During Elections Do Not Gag Anyone

(The following letter-to-the-editor, by Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch, was published in slightly different form in the National Post on April 26, 2005)

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Dear Editor,

While Gerry Nicholls of the National Citizens Coalition is correct to express concern about allegations that the federal Liberals violated the limits on spending during the 1995 Quebec referendum campaign, he unfortunately continues to describe incorrectly the federal law limiting election advertising spending by non-political parties during election campaigns (Column by Gerry Nicholls entitled "Gag law hypocrisy" was published April 25, 2005 in the National Post).

The federal law does not gag anyone or any groups, and does not even come close to making it a crime for them to "freely and effectively express a political opinion during elections" as Mr. Nicholls claims.

Groups and individuals can use news conferences, news releases, public education events, candidate debates, websites, emails, newsletter and mailings to group members as much as they want during an election.  And under the law they can also spend up to $150,000 each nationally (or $3,000 in each riding) in advertising their cause.

Many groups used these effective ways to make their voices heard during the 2004 election, and political parties were far from having a monopoly on the election agenda, in contrast to Mr. Nicholls' claims.

In other words, all the law does is ensure that wealthy individuals and groups cannot dominate federal election debates through massive advertising campaigns.  In every poll conducted in the past 15 years, 80% or more Canadians have expressed concern about wealthy people and organizations using money to have more influence over government than others, a concern the federal ad spending limit addresses (as do the federal limits on donations, and on what politicians and parties can spend during election campaigns).

As the sponsorship scandal has revealed very clearly, limiting the use of money as a means of influence is a good idea if you want a democratic government that upholds the public interest, a government that can't be bought by private interests.  By criticizing such limits, Mr. Nicholls and the NCC show clearly that they instead want a government up for sale to the highest bidder.

Duff Conacher, Coordinator
Democracy Watch

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