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Third parties can spend freely after 'gag law' struck down

The $150,000 cap on third-party advertising in the pre-election period has been blown off by Justice Frank Cole's ruling that Bill 42 violated constitutional rights.

"[The Judge] decided that the restrictions in the legislation that precluded third parties in the election act were unconstitutional as they related to the pre-election period," said Robert Holmes, president of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).

In 2008, the Election Act was modified to cap spending limits on third party advertising in the 60-day pre-election period. The limits restricted third-party advertisers to $3,000 in an electoral district and $150,000 in the entire province.

Political parties, who also have a total provincial spending limit of $4.4 million for the 88-day period do not have to follow the restriction. When combining the limits set for delegates and campaigning, political parties could spend up to $17 million.

"For 88 days the limits were put in place, but for the political party, the limits were not really limits," Holmes said.

"Obviously to extend 28 to 88 days was a big deal, especially when you put it down to a 150,000 dollar restriction for groups that have been spending much more than that."

The BCCLA were disappointed with Judge Cole's ruling that Bill 42 was put in place to ensure a fair democratic election and to stop third parties from dominating the election rather than tipping the scales in favour of the Liberal party.

"The consequences of the increased spending in 2005 have, at a minimum, the potential to lead to the dominance of the political discourse by third parties," Justice Cole said.

"This, in my view, is evidence of the harm that the legislature seeks to address in ensuring electoral fairness."

Third party advertisers currently have no cap in the amount of money they can spend from now until the writ drops on April 14.

"Third parties from now until the beginning of the election period are entitled to advertise in any way they see fit," said Joe Arvay, lawyer for the British Columbia Teachers' Federation, one of the nine parties that bought the case to the Supreme Court.

"During the election period they will be limited to 150,000 which is not something my clients ever objected to," Arvay said.

Currently the case may be going back to court as Craig Jones, barrister for the provincial government, has asked for a delay in proceedings which would make the ruling inactive until after the May 12th election.

Morgan J. Modjeski is a reporter for The Hook

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