Court Rejects Premier Campbell’s Election Gag Law
There’s a pattern developing in Victoria, but unfortunately our Premier doesn’t seem to see it. The pattern is that Premier Campbell uses aggressive legislative measures that are later found by the courts to be unwarranted or over-reaching his legislative authority. The latest legislative mishap involved the Premier’s amendments to the Elections BC Act.
In early 2008, Mr. Campbell had a plan. He wanted to shut down third party advertising long before the 28-day period of an election campaign. But his plan had a problem. It was unconstitutional. What he was proposing in the way of third party restrictions would effectively wipe out the basic right of any citizen or group to criticize the provincial government in the ninety day period prior to the call of a provincial election.
When the legislation was introduced in the Spring of 2008, groups from across the political spectrum said the legislation was deeply flawed —business groups, environmental organizations, civil rights groups, the labour movement, even the Vancouver Sun editorial board criticized the amendments. Many pointed out that the scope of what was considered advertising was far too broad. Others noted that the legislation would take effect almost immediately after the tabling of the provincial budget, leaving opponents to the budget with little capacity to publicly challenge the government’s spin on its own budget.
Despite these concerns, the Premier pressed ahead with the amendments. A group of unions, including FPSE, went to court to challenge the legislation. It was a costly, but necessary move. If the restrictions were allowed to stand, our capacity as advocates for our various memberships would have been substantially undermined.
On March 27th the BC Supreme Court ruled that the amendments to the Elections BC Act were indeed unconstitutional. The Court accepted our argument and evidence that the legislation violated our Charter rights to freedom of expression.
The unfortunate fact still remains, however. Premier Campbell has a track record of over-stepping his legislative reach. He used the Legislature to rip up signed contracts in 2002 when he passed the now infamous Bills 27, 28, 29 which removed negotiated provisions from signed collective agreements. It took an unprecedented decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to correct that legislative assault.
This latest court victory is an important step towards a stronger democracy in our province, one that not only respects our right to speak out, but also protects our right to advocate on behalf of our members and our communities. Fortunately, a provincial election is close at hand and the court of public opinion will have the final say on Premier Campbell’s combative approach to legislative change.
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Staff Representative, FPSE
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.