Bryan's Liberty Blog

Blogging for freedom.

Time to end restrictions on third party election ads

Third party election advertising has long been a contentious issue in Canada and elsewhere. In Canada, we saw it used effectively by unions and radical leftists to undermine the election campaign of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives led by Tim Hudak and help to re-elect the Liberal government led by Kathleen Wynne. As we head into the federal election campaign, union backed groups like Engage Canada are again running attack ads against conservative politicians, namely the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper.

This has understandably led to misguided calls by conservatives for an end to union funding of political advertising. The best way to ensure that the best ideas and the best politicians succeed isn’t to further restrict advertising, but to allow more freedom of expression. Any laws banning advertising by unions, or organizations backed by them, would necessarily involve banning advertising by businesses and other public advocacy groups like the National Citizens Coalition and The Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Such gag laws already exist at the federal level during the election writ period. I disagree with these laws and any restrictions on political speech. They are inconsistent with The Charier of Rights and Freedoms guarantees of freedom of expression and association. That they apply to communication during an election campaign makes them especially egregious. In the United States a similar law banning political communications by corporations and unions within 60 days before an election was found to violate the First Amendment (Citizens United vs FEC) by the Supreme Court of the United States.

With the federal fixed election date law it is now possible to time advertising for the pre-writ period substantially reducing the effectiveness of election gag laws. With a federal election scheduled for October, political advertising has already begun both by political parties and advocacy groups like Engage Canada. In order to end such advertising the law would have to extend to advertising outside of election writ periods. To ban this would entail a permanent ban on public advocacy advertising by all third parties and would amount to a total ban on political dissent outside of the political parties.

The most serious arguments against third party advertising are that unions use dues that are collected from their members, many of whom don’t agree with the positions taken by the unions, and that the dues are publicly funded through the tax deduction for union dues.

Unions aren’t the only organizations engaging in self-serving advertising to promote changes in government policy. Many businesses spend money on advertising to promote their views on matters of public policy, like Enbridge advertising in favour of pipeline construction. Their advertising and lobbying efforts also benefit from tax deductibility for the businesses.

The political parties themselves also receive massive public funding for their campaigns. The problem with union backed advertising isn’t that it’s publicly subsidized by tax deductions, but that the funds are extracted involuntarily from workers through mandatory dues deduction.

Political parties gain most of their funding from donations voluntarily given by their supporters. Businesses use their own revenues to promote positions that are in the interest of the business and advocacy groups like The National Citizens Coalition and The Campaign Life Coalition rely on voluntary donations from their supporters.

It is only the unions that are effectively granted the power to tax their members in order to fund political campaigns. Mandatory dues check off (also known as the Rand Formula) require employers to deduct union dues from pay cheques for all workers, whether members of the union or not. In this way unions are taking money from workers who aren’t members of the Union and have no interest in supporting the political campaigns run by the unions.

I fully support the right of unions to run advertising promoting their political views, but only if they obtain the funds for the advertising through voluntarily obtained contributions of members. A ban on Union advertising would violate the freedom of expression of union members, but forcing people to fund such advertising when they are not in agreement is a violation of the right of freedom of association of workers.

Everyone regardless of their political views should be entitled to promote their political positions individually or in concert with others. Campaign advertising restrictions interfere with that right and need to end. At the same time no one should be forced to pay for the promotion of views they disagree with. This is unfair to the workers, violates their rights of workers and creates a bias in favour of pro Union advertising during elections.

The solution is to end the Rand Formula for funding unions in Canada. Those who voluntarily support the positions taken by the unions will remain free to help fund them, but those who don’t should be allowed the freedom to withhold union dues or donate to causes they agree with. This won’t end Union backed political advertising, but it will ensure that it represents the views of those actually funding it.

The War on Religious Freedom

A few years ago, gay marriage was the big new battleground for the progressive left. Many conservatives argued that allowing homosexuals to marry each other would damage the institution of marriage itself. I didn’t care much much either way because I always considered marriage to be a matter for individual religions to decide. Now that gay marriage is well established in Canada it is apparent that it is a much bigger threat to religious freedom than I had thought.

For left wing activists the gay marriage issue was just a step in their assault on traditional christian institutions. While gay marriage is the law in Canada and in increasing numbers of U.S. states, we are now seeing gay marriage being used to erode the fundamental rights of christians to live in accordance with their basic beliefs.

The Law Society of Upper  Canada, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society and the British Columbia Law Society have all voted to bar graduates of the Trinity Western University law school from practicing law in their jurisdictions. They have made use of the legalization of gay marriage in Canada as a pretext, claiming that Trinity Western University’s position on gay marriage amounts to unlawful discrimination against gays. Lets be clear, TWU isn’t barring gays from admission to the university, its not even blocking married gays from applying. What TWU is doing is expecting gay students to sign on to the same values pledge as all other students of the university. The values in the pledge are consistent with the belief system of most evangelical christians including a pledge not to engage in pre-marital or extra-marital sex, drinking and drug use on campus. The pledge permits sexual activity between married couples, but the university doesn’t recognize gay marriage. This is consistent with the views of most evangelicals and Catholics that sexual relations between people of the same sex is sinful. In order to accept that gay married couples can engage in sex while attending the school, TWU would have to abandon one of the fundamental religious beliefs of its students and faculty.

Through a series of Supreme Court of Canada cases, the right to gays to be treated equally under the law is well established under s. 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Through the action of the provincial and federal Human Rights Acts, that is extended to equal treatment by private business interests like Trinity Western University. In cases of religious organizations there is a potential conflict between s. 15 and section 2(a) of the Charter which guarantees freedom of conscience and religion. If it can be said that the Human Rights Act has to recognize equality rights for gays under s. 15, then surely it must also recognize freedom of religion under s. 2 of the Charter.

In 2001, The Supreme Court of Canada (Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers [2001] 1 S.C.R. 882, 2001 SCC 31) ruled in favor of the accreditation of Trinity Western University against the British Columbia College of Teachers which had claimed that its policies as a religious based institution would lead to discrimination. With respect to the alleged discriminatory impact of the university’s code of conduct, the court said (paragraph 25):

To state that the voluntary adoption of a code of conduct based on a person’s own religious beliefs, in a private institution, is sufficient to engage s. 15  would be inconsistent with freedom of conscience and religion, which co-exist with the right to equality.

and further along (paragraph 33)

Indeed, if TWU’s Community Standards could be sufficient in themselves to justify denying accreditation, it is difficult to see how the same logic would not result in the denial of accreditation to members of a particular church.  The diversity of Canadian society is partly reflected in the multiple religious organizations that mark the societal landscape and this diversity of views should be respected.

The court distinguished between freedom of belief and conduct and found that the freedom of student’s to hold certain beliefs is broader than freedom to act on them (paragraph 36):

Instead, the proper place to draw the line in cases like the one at bar is generally between belief and conduct.  The freedom to hold beliefs is broader than the freedom to act on them.  Absent concrete evidence that training teachers at TWU fosters discrimination in the public schools of B.C., the freedom of individuals to adhere to certain religious beliefs while at TWU should be respected.

Despite the clear direction given by the Supreme Court of Canada, The Law Society of Upper Canada and other law societies have denied accreditation to the TWU law school and have as a result discriminated against the religious freedoms of its students and faculty.

The claim is apparently based on the belief that legalization of gay marriage in Canada has changed the rules for religious organizations. I disagree. If the standard it to determine whether the voluntary code of conduct for students at TWU will foster discrimination in the legal profession by graduates of the school, that test clearly fails the same way as it did against the B.C. College of Teachers. As for treating gay married students differently from other married students, the test is between freedom of belief and freedom of action. There is nothing prohibiting gay married students from attending the university, but they must agree to abstain from activities that the evangelical college considers to be sinful.

None of this has stopped the provincial law societies from engaging in anti-christian bigotry. This has made me wonder what will be the next battle in the war between gay activists and evangelical christians over the issue of gay marriage.

Canada’s Civil Marriage Act recognizes marriage as a “lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of others” without regard to the gender of the parties. Section 3 of the Act purports to protect religious freedom by stating that “it is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs”. That seems like a common sense rule, but we have to remember that the solemnization of marriage is governed by the provinces under section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

In Ontario that solemnization is governed by The Marriage Act, R.S.O. 1990, Chapter M.3. Section 20 of the Act gives authority to the Minister of Consumer and Business Services to register any person to solemnize marriages. That authority is permissive, not mandatory, meaning the Minister can refuse to register any person.

This is where freedom of religion is threatened once again with respect to gay marriages. Acting on an expanded view of rights to gay marriage, the Minister can simply decide that he won’t grant registration to members of any church that refuses to conduct gay marriage ceremonies. This isn’t in conflict with the federal law, because no one is forcing anyone to conduct a gay marriage, they are instead denying them the authority to conduct any marriages. The result will be forcing members of evangelical churches and Catholics to attend civil ceremonies in addition to their religious ceremonies if they wish to be legally married in the province of Ontario.

No one has proposed this yet, but it is a natural progression to the denial of freedom of religion being promoted by left wing gay activists.

Happy New Year

So you agreed to be the designated driver and drove your friends to the big party. While everyone else was getting drunk, you stayed with diet cola. Finally the big moment comes and your host offers you a glass of champagne. What harm can there be in one drink after all?

Now you and your friends find yourself at the side of the road, standing in the freezing cold with no car. You got stopped at a roadside test and were asked to blow into a breathalyzer. Despite being completely sober, you blew 0.055. As a result you were charged under Ontario’s new impaired driving law and  license suspended on the spot. No trial and no way to get home. Welcome to Dalton McGuinty’s Ontario.

You didn’t think it was a problem when they banned pit bulls. After all, you didn’t own a pit bull. You thought that there was no problem when they passed the racing and stunt driving laws. After all, you’re not a racer. You didn’t see anything wrong when they banned smoking in bars and restaurants, after all you don’t smoke. Now you stand at the side of the road trying to find a taxi in the early hours of New Years Day and you wonder what happened?

What did I do wrong? Since when is it a crime to drive a car when you’re NOT DRUNK? Then again, when did it become a crime to own a dog, or to drive a bit fast when you’re passing a truck on the highway? In McGuinty’s Ontario, you can face prison time for all three. For sure you can have your car impounded, or your family’s dog seized and killed.

So, on New Year’s Eve in Ontario, while police in other jurisdictions are busy watching for impaired drivers and arresting them to make the roads safer, police in Ontario are busy seizing cars and driver’s licenses from people who have been careful to remain sober. Is this supposed to make our roads safer? Of course not. All it does is make McGuinty’s friends in the temperance movement otherwise known as Mothers Against Drunk Driving happy.

Like so many other laws in McGuinty’s Ontario, the impaired driving law has nothing to do with the stated goal – in this case getting drunk drivers off the road. Instead the law detracts from the real police work needed to achieve that goal.

Let’s hope that this doesn’t happen to you. Until we can elect a leader who will pass sensible laws that achieve their desired goals and respect our freedoms, I’m recommending that you stay home, party at a neighbours or at a bar within walking distance or at a hotel with a room booked for the night. If you do drive, watch out for the police. They aren’t there to help you.