Canadas Communists seek election reforms

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — As part of its ongoing campaign for electoral reform, the Communist Party of Canada is asking election authorities to allocate more free television advertising time to small parties.

According to the CPC, the present rules discriminate against small parties because the large parties with the most resources to buy TV advertising time receive the largest share of free advertising time. For instance, of the 390 minutes of free airtime that will be allocated in the next federal election expected sometime this year, small parties will only get 2 minutes.

In a letter to Broadcast Arbitrator Peter Grant, party representative Liz Rowley asks that he provide all registered parties with the same amount of free airtime. “Much of the information about the platform of a political party is communicated to potential voters through the media, and it is very expensive to purchase political advertising,” she noted.

Referring to the results of an earlier lawsuit that the CPC and five other small parties undertook, Rowley wrote, “We ask that you consider Judge Matlow’s decision prior to rendering your decision on the division of broadcast time for the next 12 months. We believe that the proposal to divide the 390 minutes of free time equally amongst the registered parties is well supported by this latest court decision.”

Ontario Supreme Court Judge Ted Matlow ruled Oct 12, 2006, that campaign finance laws are discriminatory, hindering democratic participation and creating the impression that they only benefit the major political parties. Parties receive $1.75 Canadian (US $1.50) in public money for every vote they receive. However, parties must receive 2 percent of the national vote or 5 percent in certain individual ridings (electoral districts) to be eligible for public funding.

Matlow ordered the federal government to provide campaign funding to small parties retroactive to Jan. 1, 2004, when the new campaign finance law took effect. The government is appealing the ruling.

When asked what action the Communist Party will take if Grant decides against allocating more free TV election advertising time to small parties, Kimball Cariou, a member of the CPC’s executive committee, said, “Together with other affected parties, we intend to keep up our struggle for equitable electoral financing and meaningful access to free broadcast time. Our strategy is to combine public pressure on Parliament, to participate in official reviews of electoral legislation and to take further legal action, if this becomes necessary.”

The CPC has played an important role in changing Canada’s election laws. Canadian Communists forced the federal government to strike down an undemocratic election law in 2003 that banned small parties. Under the old law, parties had to run a minimum of 50 candidates for Parliament, and the government had the right to deregister and seize the assets of parties not complying with the law.

CPC leader Miguel Figueroa challenged the law in the courts in 1993. After years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that to discriminate against parties based on size is illegal and ordered the federal government to rewrite the election law.

Today, federal registration and tax exemption status is granted to parties that run a minimum of two candidates. In July 2006, the federal conservative government settled out of court with the CPC, awarding the party $65,000 to cover legal expenses during its long court battle.

tpelzer @ shaw.ca