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BC makes another attempt to restrict election advertising

After losing in court, the British Columbia government is trying again to restrict third parties from advertising before elections.

The bill introduced today in the legislature would, among changes to various provincial laws, limit third parties to spending a total of $150,000, or $3,000 in any one constituency, during the 28-day election period and the 40 days before the writ is dropped.

In 2009 the Supreme Court of B.C. struck down a law had the same spending limits, but included a slightly longer 60 day pre-election period. The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld that ruling.

"The court said they didn't like the law that was brought in by my predecessor," said Premier Christy Clark. "What we've done is we've brought in a revised version of the law which responds to the court's concerns which I think were legitimate."

The new law reduces the pre-campaign period where advertising is restricted from 60 days to 40 and allows unrestricted advertising in the three weeks after the legislature stops sitting, even if an election has been called.

With a fixed election date and defined spending limits during the campaign period, you also need to limit the spending ahead of the campaign period, said Clark. "It's become clear over the last decade that we've had fixed election dates this needs to change."

The government will refer the new law back to the courts for an opinion, she said.

"I think it's a question simply of changing the form and not the substance," said Leonard Krog, the NDP's justice critic. "The court was not satisfied last go round when the government tried this. I think an amendment from 60 to 40 days is not going to pass muster by the court."

It would be better to talk about real electoral reform and bring in bill banning corporate and union donations as the NDP has proposed, he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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