Campaign spending limits

05.19.04

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada limited special interest spending in election campaigns by third-parties.

The blogosphere is up in arms about this. Damian Penny thinks that the decision will “come back to haunt” us. He links to Colby Cosh, who claims this law turns special interests into “second-class citizens”. David Janes says that “Freedom died today in Canada”. And so on. And so forth.

I’m going to take a flying departure from all of them and say that I think this ruling is actually a very good idea. And here’s why:

“Freedom of expression” does not mean the same thing as “freedom to buy politicians and drown out everyone else’s expression”. There may be nobody much to vote for at the polls, but at least my choices are still between the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, or Bloc… and not between the gun lobby, the anti-abortion lobby, the union lobby, or the environmental lobby. We need only to glance towards our neighbours to the south, who are stuck between voting for the ACLU or the NRA in each and every election.

Lobbying as a political activity in itself is all very well and good. But sadly, it has the effect of so heavily mortgaging political parties to special interests, that they no longer have the freedom to govern effectively.

This law doesn’t restrict third-party spending outside of an election period. It doesn’t stop people from expressing their opinions, or from organizing to do so in a concerted fashion. If anything, this will allow a wider variety of opinions to be heard, because the ones with the most money can’t drown out the rest.

The next step, in my opinion, is rigorous campaign spending laws for candidates and parties. People should win on the strength of their ideas, not on how frequently they can plaster their face on prime-time.

But, as Dennis Miller would say, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jonathan Edelstein 05.19.04 at 3:32 PM

“Freedom of expression” does not mean the same thing as “freedom to buy politicians and drown out everyone else’s expression”.

Absolutely. I’ve never understood the argument that “money is speech” – money can be more accurately be compared to the 120-decibel sound truck driving through the neighborhood.

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2 David 05.19.04 at 3:41 PM

Just imagine in your mega-city demerger debate if only political parties were allowed to speak 90 days before the vote. Why not? We wouldn’t want lobbists tainting the vote.

The indifferent Liberals would ignore it, and the PQ would be against it. And if you got together with your neighbours to say otherwise; well, you’re a criminal now.

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3 Colby Cosh 05.19.04 at 9:44 PM

Well, you’re guilty of the same weird confusion between lobbying and advertising that almost everyone else has committed, but since you linked to my entry that explains the difference, I can hardly complain. Lobbying is a cancer on democracy. The Liberal gag law has the effect of encouraging behind-the-scenes lobbying instead of public advocacy, which is what democracy (as the Chief Justice pointed out in her dissent) is supposed to be about.

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4 segacs 05.19.04 at 11:51 PM

I’m talking about third-party lobby groups, not lobbying by politicians. That’s another rant… reserved for another post.

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5 Ikram 05.20.04 at 3:44 PM

Colby highlighted how Albertan Chief Justice Beverly Mc-whatever voted dissented from this decision, and he attributed it to her Albertan origin. I think your support of the decision may come out of the prevailing political environment in yout home province. You really are a Quebecker. (I would expect that Quebeckers are more supportive of the ruling and Albertans more opposed.)

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6 segacs 05.20.04 at 3:52 PM

If people always thought like everyone else in their province, then I’d be anti-American, pro-big labour movements, and anti-English.

Come on, Ikram, you should know better than to assume that everyone from a certain region thinks the same way.

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7 ScottAdler 05.21.04 at 11:27 AM

I agree with you wholeheartedly.

In California, referenda are bought and paid for by special interests who define the campaigns entirely in their own terms.

There is no such thing as a “corporate citizen” or “corporate free speech.”

Corporations are not people.

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