Trevena: Ad ban reversal is a lesson for Liberals

North Island NDP MLA Claire Trevena says she hopes the Liberals have learned that “unions, businesses and lobby groups have to be allowed to have freedom of speech” through advertising ahead of provincial elections.

The B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled that the government’s 40-day, pre-election advertising gag law is unconstitutional. The ruling supported an earlier B.C. Supreme Court decision to quash a $3.2 million fine levied against the B.C. Government Employees’ Union (BCGEU) by Elections BC under advertising provisions of the Elections Act.

Attorney-General Shirley Bond said the government will not appeal the latest rejection of its attempt to place spending limits on any political advertising before an election campaign. But she still defends the goal of preventing “big money” from dominating campaign rhetoric. “Our concerns always have been that this is about fairness and it is about making sure that when there is public debate prior to a provincial election it isn’t dominated by those organizations or individuals who have greater wealth.”

Trevena said: “I hope the Liberals have got the message that you can’t suppress freedom of speech. I don’t know why they pressed the issue a second time. I hope they have backed off for good,” Trevena said.

The North Island MLA added that many of the lobby groups that advertise ahead of an election “don’t have a political agenda.” Rather they are seeking to focus voters on critical public policy issues, she said.

BCGEU president Darryl Walker said: “The union has argued that the definition of election advertising is too broad and that our television ad targeted by Elections BC did not constitute election advertising. This ruling confirms our original position.”

A key part of Justice P.D. Lowry’s ruling notes that “the definition of election advertising is overly broad. It captures virtually all political expression regardless of whether such is intended to influence the election, and, as explained, all individuals and organizations are affected even if their election advertising is voluntary.”

Walker said: “It seems clear that the legislation was crafted to suppress public participation in our democracy, and the court has spoken clearly on this issue.”

IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis, whose group was an intervenor in the case, said: “Laws which govern one of the most fundamental rights in a democratic society should never be drafted behind caucus doors and then tossed into a Miscellaneous Statues Amendment Act.  British Columbians were never given the opportunity to help the government fashion an approach on these questions before the amendments were presented to the Legislature.”

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