CHP Sues to Open Leaders’ TV Debates to All
In Ontario on a campaign tour, CHP leader Ron Gray said today that his party has been asking for ten years for changes to the Elections Act to give first consideration to the right of voters to be provided with adequate information about all options available to them; the Act as written by Parliament focuses instead on the interests of the major parties
“A democracy requires an informed electorate,” Gray says. “That means they must know about the philosophies and policies of all the parties. Limiting their information to only the biggest four or five impairs the democratic process.”
The CHP noted that the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2003 Figueroa decision, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, stresses the important role smaller parties play an in the democratic process, even if they cannot offer what she called “a government option”, by raising issues the major parties may not want to discuss.
“That certainly applies to the CHP,” Gray noted. “Our platform includes many issues the big parties would rather avoid, as well as fresh and innovative proposals on problems they’re still debating in old terms.”
The Chief Justice, in the Figueroa decision, also stressed the right of candidates to make their policies known, and the citizens’ need to have adequate access to information-points the CHP has been stressing for ten years as a member of the Chief Electoral Officer’s Advisory Committee of Political Parties.
“It’s also an issue that when polls are taken, the results are unreliable if pollsters only ask about the three or four biggest parties. Later, most voters will only know about the four biggest national parties and one regional party. We had a survey done in 1996 which showed that three-quarters of the public have never been told about other parties with different policies.
“One way that hurts democracy is that, the people who might support those policies stay home ands don’t vote, because they don’t know there’s any party that represents them.”
The CHP’s brief in federal court states that if the five radio and television networks give free time to only the largest parties, that free time becomes a campaign donation. Under the revisions made to the Elections Act in Bill C-24 three years ago, donations to political parties by corporations are illegal.
The CHP leader said the party’s legal counsel has advised him that a preferential assignment of free air time to the bigger parties violates provisions in both the Elections Act and the Broadcasting Act.
“Two hours of free time, coast-to-coast, is a pretty big campaign contribution,” Gray said. “For comparison purposes, consider this: 30 seconds on CTV’s prime-time program The Amazing Race costs $63,000.
“And the broadcasters are already aware of the problem,” he added. “When we requested a copy of a recorded one-minute free-time television message from the CBC, the producer told us they would have to remove the closed captioning, because that might be construed as a campaign donation.
“If the networks worry that one minute of closed captioning is a campaign donation, what do they think two hours of prime time on three networks is?
“If they include all parties, it’s news coverage,” explained Gray. “But if they favour only some parties and not others, it’s a gift-in-kind worth millions of dollars.”