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BC Liberal supporter reverses on gag law opposition

If you want a clear indication of which party the so-called gag law on election advertising is likely to benefit in May's provincial election, look no further than the 180 degree turn taken by Philip Hochstein.

Hochstein is the president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., the organization behind the recent VoteSmart B.C. campaign attacking the NDP, and a long-time opponent of election advertising gag laws.

When Premier Gordon Campbell's Liberal government brought in the new restrictions on election advertising in May, Hochstein told the Tyee he was against the changes. Under the new rules third parties like the ICBA would be limited to spending $3,000 in any one constituency, and not more than $150,000 across the province, in the two months before voting day.

"I think there's a role for people or groups to play in the election," he said back in May. "I don't think democracy is hurt by many voices participating. I think it's helped at the end of the day." People should be able to get their messages out, he said. "I find it a little unfortunate that it was curtailed.”

No restrictions are necessary at all, he said. "People are bombarded with competing and conflicting messages all the time. There are endless sources of information. I think the public is smart enough to sort that out."

Well, that was then.

According to a report this week by John Bermingham in the Province newspaper, Hochstein now has “no problem” with the gag. "Those are the rules of the game," he said.

To what does this enemy of government interference owe his conversion? Hochstein was unavailable Wednesday morning to explain himself.

“I think his conversion is purely about partisan politics,” said Leonard Krog, the NDP's critic for the Attorney General. “He's reversed because we're close to an election. The Liberal supporters are gathering around their arrogant leader and will do anything to support this government.”

But isn't it sad to see Hochstein abandon his principles?

“I don't think the Liberal supporters have any principles except their hatred of the NDP,” said Krog. “They'll do anything to hang onto power and their friends will do anything to help them hang onto power.

“This is a shocking thing for this government to bring in and I'm disgusted someone like Philip Hochstein who has claimed such high ground on issues of principle is willing to reverse himself.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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