Sunday, September 20, 2009

Too Fair or Not Fair Enough?

It seems that not all provincial governments play politics by the same rules.

Little-enforced Section 277 of the Saskatchewan Elections Act prohibits basically any government organization from publishing any information within a constituency during a by-election. When the constituency is in a large enough city, the prohibition extends to the whole city. The trouble is, there are currently by-elections being held in Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan's two largest cities. Perhaps taking fair play a step too far, Saskatchewan's government has applied the law strictly, so that "bureaucrats are prohibited from speaking to anyone in Regina or Saskatoon unless it's on a matter of public health and safety."

Meanwhile, British Columbia has been living up to its reputation for playing hardball politics. This week, the government announced it would appeal a decision striking down a law limiting third-party spending in the 60 days before an election campaign. The law has been widely criticized, and the judge's decision seems solid, so why is the government bothering to appeal? Because, as this article explains, in the days before a campaign starts, political parties tend to conserve cash and wait for the real thing. Aside from the government, third-parties are the main source of information during the pre-campaign period. Curtailing what they can spend would leave the government with a free hand, adding to its advantage.

These laws are based on very different ideas of what the right role for government communications is during and just before an election. Both seem to go too far, but what would the middle ground look like?

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