Thursday, April 26, 2007

On pre-electioneering

It doesn't appear to have received much attention in the midst of a busy week in Canadian politics. But Pat Martin's suggestion that Elections Canada regulate political party advertising outside of election campaigns as well as within them is one which deserves plenty more discussion (note: follow second headline link for article):
The Conservatives' spring offensive TV ads and the Liberals' recent radio ads are not considered election expenses, so the sky's the limit, but Canada's Chief Electoral Officer should finally impose limits on the amount of money registered political parties can spend on pre-writ campaigning, says NDP MP Pat Martin.

Mr. Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Man.) said political parties with larger campaign war chests have an unfair advantage over those that don't.

"Financing politics in Canada is a complete free-for-all. It's like the Wild West without regulation or limits where brute force wins the day and whoever has the bigger gun dominates, at least when you're outside the writ period, which is contrary to the stated objective of getting big money out of politics to create a level playing field. So, I think the new chief electoral officer should consider a spending limit on advertising in between elections..." said Mr. Martin in an interview with The Hill Times...
In light of the flurry of advertising this spring, Martin's idea will likely resonate with Canadians who are tired of constant campaigning. At the same time, though, there's almost certainly some room for refinement of the idea based on when the ad expenditures take place.

In particular, I wonder whether it's possible to distinguish between non-election advertising generally, and that which is timed to coincide with a planned start to a campaign (so as to serve effectively as election advertising). It would seem reasonable to make an effort to account for money spent on advertising in the week or month before the writ is dropped as an election expense - as the parties will presumably have plenty of knowledge as to when the election period is likely to start, and will gain just as much within an election from spending money a day before the campaign starts as the day after. Meanwhile, a separate limit on expenses which don't fall immediately before an election period could help to reduce public fatigue with political advertising.

Of course, there's another factor at play which may be easily overlooked based on the Cons' currently holding a resource advantage in party money and pressure-group support as well as the reins of power. If additional limits are placed only on political party advertising, then that could create an artificial advantage for both the governing party (which of course can effectively win advertising for itself through program announcements), and any party with relatively coordinated outside support which could engage in favourable advertising outside the writ period.

All of which means that there's plenty more that can be done to limit the pervasiveness of political advertising - along with many factors that need to be taken into consideration in shaping such a system. But it's definitely worth considering how it's possible to both reduce the influence of money in politics, and discourage political parties from taking as large a bite out of the airwaves as they do...and hopefully Martin's suggestion will help to get that discussion going.

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