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Another B.C. Gag Law Proposed

Premier Christy Clark’s government has brought back a campaign-spending law that was previously struck down as unconstitutional, saying it has made changes to address the court’s concerns.

The immediate response of most people who appreciate democracy and free speech is to challenge in court this truly anti-democratic legislation.

However, my advice is that rather than fighting the new “Gag Law”, opponents of the ridiculously anti-democratic law should get creative and work within or better yet, work around the rules that the government has created to stifle public debate and dialogue.

How to do that, you ask? Well read on…

Integrity BC, a non-partisan voice championing accountability and integrity in BC politics, has recently informed me that it is shockingly simple to start and keep a political party alive in British Columbia. How easy? Well, in B.C. a political party can be registered with the signature of only “two principal officers of the party”.

Not surprisingly, B.C. has, count them, 27 political parties, the most parties of any province in Canada.

IntegrityBC contrasted that number with the requirements in Alberta and Ontario. In Alberta the registration of a political party requires signatures from 0.3 per cent of the eligible number of electors in the last general election or roughly 7,000. In Ontario, it requires 1,000 signatures from eligible voters.

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So rather than spend countless dollars and energy re-fighting this ridiculously anti-democratic legislation, the opponents of the legislation should simply start their own political party and spend to their hearts content in an effort to advance their issues.

Further to this news are the minimal standards for a party to remain in good standing with Elections BC. Rules surrounding the automatic deregistration of a party are far tougher in other provinces.

In Ontario, a party leader must attest annually in writing that the “fundamental purpose of the political party is to participate in public affairs by endorsing candidates and supporting their election” and the Chief Electoral Officer retains the right to deregister a party if – in his opinion – it fails “to participate in public affairs in accordance with its Statement of Fundamental Purpose.”

In Alberta, a party will be deregistered if it does not endorse a single candidate in a general election.

Yet, according to B.C.’s Election Act, a political party will only be deregistered if it fails to run at least two candidates in a general election and in the election preceding it. In 2009, six parties failed to run a single candidate in the general election nor a candidate in the three byelections since.

With the public financing of political parties in B.C. through tax credits of up to $500 per donor and the tax exempt status of political parties, it’s entirely conceivable under B.C.’s rules regarding party deregistration and the provinces fixed election dates that a political party could issue tax receipts for over eight years without ever running a candidate before being deregistered.

IntegrityBC noted that this is not an academic argument when two of the six parties that failed to run a candidate in 2009 – the B.C. Patriot party and the Advocational International Democratic party – reported over $5.8 million in assets in 2010.

So, rather than fighting this ridiculous law, work within it to promote your issues. Use these rules against the ones who wrote it.