Manufacturing consent, indeed...
Thanks again to those offering opinions on Harper v. Canada, and on election spending restrictions in general.
Jass has a long but intelligent and well-sourced screed in the comments that does a good job of finding what I consider some common ground, namely:
- It's reasonable for the SCC to find that citizens have a right to meaningful participation in elections, beyond voting and/or running
- Advertising, on the whole, works
Also on advertising, I think it requires acknowledgement that, besides "selling your product", ads are about getting your message out, i.e. informing, and that can work both ways. The pickup truck with the best gas mileage advertises this loudly, in an effort to appeal to truck buyers who place a high priority on mileage. But if I'm looking for a truck to pull a large horse trailer over hilly terrain every weekend, I don't want that, I want a big-ass gas-guzzler that will get the job done. And as such, the ads will effective dissuade me from considering this truck.
Isn't it reasonable to look at political advertising this way? Furthermore, we accept that advertising works, otherwise it wouldn't exist -- but that doesn't prove that all advertising works, nor does it mean that more advertising is always more effective. Tiny local used-car dealers often advertise, because despite the fact that the big dealers have massive TV and glossy print campaigns, they find it worthwhile for getting out their message.
If I were negotiating with Jass on a more satisfactory resolution to this issue, though, I'd probably shake hands with him on his conclusion - that the limits need to be much higher. Essentially, like most bad ideas, speech restriction is a lot more palatable when it's watered down.
In response to a couple of Greg's comments, I think it's important to note that this debate is in no way partisan. This is not a left-right issue. I would probably argue that most of our large media is a bit too locked onto Liberal-defined "Canadian values", but I have certainly heard the opposite argument from the left (wasn't Alexa McDonough musing about the need for a CBC-style government newspaper last year?). It doesn't take a wild imagination to envision a political climate where most Conservatives are happy to have everything filtered through the media, and the left are crying for a voice. (Kevin Taft? Raj Pannu?)
At any rate, it is truly strange to see the argument, coming from the left, that we should be happy with having our political debates filtered through large media.
I also invite you to consider the following. Let's say that the Ford Motor Company supports the Liberals, and wants to see them elected. They're willing to spend a million bucks. Which of the following is preferable?
- Donate $1M to the leadership campaign of the guy who's going to be Liberal leader when the election is called
- Donate $3k to every Liberal candidate
- Buy an interest in some newspapers and exert some editorial control
- Run a $1M ad election ad campaign saying "Ford supports the Liberals"