Brief Submitted to the Broadcasting Arbitrator
The following is the text of the brief submitted to Broadcasting Arbitrator Peter S. Grant on May 31, 1996 by nine registered political parties.
Dear Mr. Grant,
There is more and more discontent on the Canadian political scene with regards to the political process. Even though one does not like to say so, the fact of the matter remains that the entire political process, including elections, is increasingly discredited in the eyes of the Canadian electorate. Experience tells us that this frustrating situation for the people breeds anarchy and violence. We therefore do not believe that the status quo augurs well for the Canadian citizens and for the Canadian polity. Far from rejoicing at this prospect of a general breakdown in the political process resulting from a refusal to renew it on the part of the "powers-that-be," we are engaged in ensuring that the political process is actually renewed.
One of the factors to be considered in this situation is the role of the media in promoting certain parties to the detriment of the other parties on a routine basis as a way of life. There is a virtual hermetic wall of silence erected by the media around these parties, broken only in some rare circumstances. This situation comes to a head during federal elections when the parties seated in the House of Commons are provided with all the coverage while the other parties are completely left out of the equation.
While this overall climate may be technically beyond the realm of the Canada Elections Act and the role of the Broadcasting Arbitrator, one would be remiss to dismiss it if either the Elections Act or the Broadcasting Arbitrator are to retain any credibility of being "neutral" and "impartial" within the situation. Specifically with reference to the allocation of broadcast time during the elections for all the registered and authorized parties, unfortunately the same attitude of discrimination against those parties not represented in the House of Commons prevails.
During the most recent annual meeting of authorized political parties held on April 17, 1996 in order to decide the allocation of broadcast time, some registered and authorized parties in attendance once again argued forcefully that you should use your discretionary powers in order to allocate equal time for all the registered and authorized political parties in order to make a small start towards remedying the situation. If democracy is to be worthy of its name, then all parties participating in the elections must be considered equal. There should be a level playing field including equal access to broadcast time. Not to initiate even this small start towards equal broadcast time is to contribute towards the further loss of confidence in the existing political process and in Canadian democracy itself.
The representatives of parties not seated in the House of Commons pointed out on April 17, that it is unacceptable that Canada sends representatives to various countries of the world to oversee their elections and to assist in ensuring that they are fair and in conformity with democratic principles, while in Canada itself the most flagrant violation of the notion of "fair and free elections" takes place. This violation is actually entrenched in the regulations on which Canadian elections are based but so far the Broadcasting Arbitrator has not used his discretionary power to level the playing field. Inactivity in the face of the situation is to contribute towards the disrepute of the political process.
In the previous annual meeting held on March 8, 1995 we also argued in favour of equal time, and in fact the proposal for equal time carried the majority of votes on that day, seeing that we outnumbered the parties seated in the House of Commons. However, the subsequent judgment you rendered rejected the position of the majority of the political parties registered and authorized with Elections Canada, declaring instead that "parties in the House of Commons have a higher need for adequate time to be heard."
This year in the April 17 meeting you admitted that even according to the current provisions of the law, there is nothing stopping you from allocating equal time for all parties. We are submitting this common statement calling upon you as Broadcasting Arbitrator to take a small step towards building confidence in the political process by arbitrating that all political parties receive equal time in the coming election. If you decide once again to allocate the lion's share of broadcast time according to the formula contained in the Canada Elections Act, your action will contribute to further discrediting the political process.
There is a need for reform of the Canada Elections Act, and you can initiate it by arbitrating in favour of equal time. If you did this, you would help to turn the page on one of the aspects of elections in Canada wherein, at this time, only the well-connected rule the roost.
We, the undersigned, are not arguing out of any partisan or narrow interest based on the needs of any political party but rather from the recognition of the reality of the situation in Canada today. To repeat, this reality is demanding at the very least that all political parties be treated equally as far as allocated broadcast time is concerned, if one is interested in doing something about the problem of the political process being discredited in the eyes of the people of Canada. What is at stake is the health and vibrancy of the Canadian polity and the political process.
Thanking you in advance for your attention, we remain sincerely,
Abolitionist Party of Canada
The above-mentioned parties and their respective representatives have agreed to sign the letter.