Posted on 23 March 2011
OTTAWA – Senator Dennis Dawson (Lauzon, Québec) moved today second reading of his bill to fix a loophole in the Canada Elections Act. Bill S-227, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (election expenses), would prevent political parties from circumventing the existing spending limits by advertising immediately prior to an election campaign. It treats all advertising bought by political parties in the three months immediately preceding the call of an election as an “election expense,” which would be included in the limits imposed on party expenses during the election campaign itself.
“The Canada Elections Act sets out very strict limits on what a party can spend during election campaigns. This bill simply ensures that if one starts campaigning by advertising just before an election, that spending is caught by the statutory spending limits,” explained Senator Dawson.
“With the introduction of fixed election dates, all parties know when an election will take place and can easily start spending on campaign-style advertising in the months leading up to the call. That undermines the values and fundamental fairness of the Canadian system that is found in the spending limits contained in the Canada Elections Act. Frankly, this bill addresses a real gap in the Conservatives’ fixed election date law,” said Senator Dawson.
The bill is a reintroduction of Bill S-236, tabled by Senator Dawson in May 2009. That bill died when Prime Minister Harper prorogued Parliament last year. “The recent Conservative negative ads demonstrate once again the need for this bill, and I thought it was important to reintroduce it. You should not be able to get around the spending limits of the Elections Act by spending huge amounts shortly before an expected election,” explained Senator Dawson.
The bill expands the definition of “election expense” to include a cost incurred, or non-monetary contribution received, by a registered party, an electoral district association or a candidate, for property or a service that is used to directly promote or oppose a registered party, its leader or a candidate, during the three months immediately prior to an election campaign.
It would not prohibit or in any way limit pre-campaign advertising. A party or candidate can advertise as much as they choose. However, they will know that whatever they spend will count towards their campaign spending limits. While the advertising costs will be recognized for purposes of the spending limits under the Elections Act, the amounts would not be included for purposes of reimbursements from taxpayers.
Bill S-227 addresses concerns raised in the past by a number of experts, including former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley. While appearing before a Parliamentary committee in 2006, Mr. Kingsley suggested that fixed election dates would carry with them the need to regulate advertising by political parties before the actual writ period. Mr. Kingsley’s testimony can be found at: http://www2.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Committee/391/PROC/Evidence/EV2357279/PROCEV18-E.PDF
“The Conservative government has stated that it wants to reduce the influence of money in politics, yet it failed to correct this oversight in either its fixed election date law or its famous Accountability Act. That bill focused on the role of money on the contributions side, but was strangely silent about the huge role of money on the spending side,” said Senator Dawson. “Canadians expect elections to be decided through a fair contest of ideas; that’s why we have reasonable spending limits on political advertising.”
Office of Senator Dennis Dawson
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