November 8, 2020
Allocation of Broadcasting Time
your appointment as Broadcasting Arbitrator. We look forward to working
We, the undersigned, are writing to
propose that you use the discretionary powers accorded to the
Broadcasting Arbitrator by the Canada Elections Act (CEA)
to allocate broadcasting time for 2020 equally to all registered
political parties. We think such use of your discretionary power is
appropriate because any allocation that is not based on the principle
of equality is not only unfair to all but the larger parties already
represented in Parliament; it is also against the public interest.
When a publicly owned/controlled resource such as election
broadcasting time is put at the disposal of registered political
parties, it must not be used to benefit some parties over others. An
allocation based either on the statutory formula or on the 2019 "50-per
cent modified approach" does not uphold the democratic principle of
enabling Canadians to exercise an informed vote.
to justify preferential treatment for some parties were first advanced
in the 1930s before political parties were even recognized in the CEA.
They articulated a concept of "free and fair" elections in
which certain parties were to be favoured with publicly controlled
airtime if they had a reasonable chance of forming a majority
government. At the time, only two political parties were considered to
be "viable" for this purpose. Today, there are many more parties, and
arguments claiming that some deserve more free time so that they can be
heard over others do not stand up to modern democratic standards.
Coupled with the unfair free-time broadcasting allocation,
both broadcasting and print media news coverage are also highly
discriminatory. The 2019 Federal Election saw an almost complete
blackout of the small parties by national media outlets.
not just during an election but between elections as well, the
political parties with seats in the House of Commons receive extensive
news coverage, especially the ruling party. On the other hand, the
media erects a virtual hermetic wall of silence around the small
parties, broken only on very rare occasions.
the past three decades, successive governments have rejected
recommendations to reform the broadcasting allocation to make it
democratic. As far back as the 1992 Royal Commission on Electoral
Reform, the regime's unfairness and its failure to contribute to an
informed vote has been raised as a problem. The Royal Commission's
arguments included a survey showing that more than 53 per cent of
Canadians wanted to hear more about the small parties.
two decades, Elections Canada has recommended the equal allocation of
free time among all registered political parties. In 2001, then Chief
Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley argued that the use of the
paid-time formula to determine free time is "to the disadvantage of
small and new parties, because they do not have the resources of the
well-established parties to pay for air time, with the result that they
are given less free time as well."
recommendation came after the Alberta Court of Appeal had ruled in 1995
that the paid-time allocation could no longer be used as a limit on how
much broadcasting time a party can purchase. Thus, the argument that
the paid-time allocation formula serves to prevent a party with more
money from dominating the airwaves was rendered void. Any party can buy
as many ads as it wants so long as it doesn't exceed the spending
After the 2003 ruling of the Supreme Court
of Canada [Figueroa v. Canada (Attorney General)],
the Chief Electoral Officer added that the allocation regime is
potentially a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In that case, the Government argued that Charter
violations of the right to elect and to be elected could be justified
because "a party that does not participate in an election with a view
to forming a government, or at least of winning a substantial number of
seats in Parliament, is not a party that possesses the capacity to
advance the objective of effective representation." The Supreme Court
did not agree. It found that legislation informed by the aim of giving
rise to a particular form of responsible government was "problematic."
"Legislation enacted for the express purpose of decreasing the
likelihood that a certain class of candidates will be elected is not
only discordant with the principles integral to a free and democratic
society, but, rather, is the antithesis of those principles," the
Supreme Court stated.
Following the 2015 Federal
Election, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand reiterated Mr.
Kingsley's 2001 recommendation. The Committee on Procedures and House
Affairs promised to "revisit" the matter later, a promise that remains
The current allocation of broadcasting
time benefits political parties with seats in the House of Commons --
some more than others -- at the expense of the parties with no seats in
the House. It is neither reasonable nor perceived to be democratic.
Enabling Canadians to exercise their right to an informed vote
requires measures which at the very least inform them properly of the
presence and positions of all those who are participating in an
We can only hope that on November 9 the
representatives of all registered political parties and especially
those with seats in the House of Commons will take a small but
important step in favour of an informed vote by supporting the equal
allocation of broadcasting time.
Liz White, Animal
Partap Dua, Canada's
Rodney Taylor, Christian
Liz Rowley, Communist
Coreen Corcoran, Libertarian Party
Blair Longley, Marijuana Party
Di Carlo, Marxist-Leninist Party
Garvey, National Citizens Alliance
CoRhino, Parti Rhinocéros Party
Ranney, Stop Climate Change Party
Joy, Veterans Coalition Party
This article was published in
Volume 51 Number 8 - March 21, 2021