Canada’s election and broadcasting laws do not uphold the right of Canadians to an informed vote. A major reason is that registered parties and candidates are not treated equally. A concept of “equitable” treatment was introduced to displace the fundamental democratic principle of equality. The suggestion is that all parties and participants in an election are all treated “fairly” but there is no discussion of the criteria used to determine what constitutes fairness.
In this vein, on September 20, a complaint was filed with the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), arguing that the 2021 election coverage does not even meet the requirement for equitable treatment. The complaint was also filed with the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
The complaint was filed by Greg Vezina, the leader of the None-of-the-Above Party – a party registered in Ontario. The complaint argues that “none of the licenced radio or television broadcasters” have met the conditions of their licence as outlined in the Broadcasting Act, Section 3. This Section states, among other things, that Canadian broadcasting should “provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern.”
The complaint also charges that “not a single licenced broadcaster” respected the Election Guidelines issued by the CRTC on August 17 that stipulated programming should be conducted “on an equitable basis to political parties and candidates.” When coverage of small parties did occur, the complaint states, “in most cases the editorial slant was very negative or dismissive,” not only of the parties, but “more importantly of their supporters, and also of the viewers and listeners and voters seeking to learn more on the public airwaves in order to make an informed decision…”
The complaint notes the false character of advertising by media outlets claiming to provide “all the election news” viewers need. It alleges that “Not a single licenced broadcaster … even informed the public that there were 22 registered parties with officially nominated candidates on the ballot … on more than one occasion during the entire campaign.”
“We can see no circumstance where a legitimate definition of ‘equitable’ coverage includes providing hundreds of minutes if not hours of coverage to the major parties, their leaders and candidates, and a few minutes or seconds, or in most cases not a single second, to the 16 other parties during the entire campaign,” the complaint states.
As an overall description, the complaint states coverage was “biased in favour of the major parties and mislead viewers of facts regarding their actual voting options, from the daily news to the public affairs and highly partisan political panel coverage, to all aspects of the campaign including biased and unscientific polling.”
The complaint acknowledges that while the CRTC does not require debates to be inclusive of all party and independent candidates, the media is not excused from its obligation to provide equitable coverage in news, commentary and other programming. Political panels, it says, only included individuals from the parties in the House of Commons. The polling, it states, also only included the leaders of these parties, “with occasionally the Bloc and Peoples Party leader added, but with no other leader or a none of the above option.” The complaint argues that furthermore, the inequitable coverage should be treated as a contribution in kind by those the stations favoured. Such contributions would be illegal given that they come from a prohibited source (corporations).
Vezina filed a similar complaint following the 2019 federal election, particularly citing the CBC’s regular feature entitled “where the leaders are today” which did not inform about all the party leaders. Vezina notes in his complaint that this merely resulted in a change in some cases of reporting titles, such as “where the leaders of the major parties are today.”
It remains to be seen what attention this complaint will receive. It is nonetheless certain that the failure of elections in Canada to uphold the right of Canadians to an informed vote is a serious flaw in the democracy which merits serious attention. Taking this complaint seriously would be a good place to start. Dismissing it under the hoax that the electoral law permits such an egregious democratic deficit will not restore credibility or legitimacy to the crisis-ridden democratic institutions.
Renewal Update, No. 35, September 28, 2021
Renewal Update is the election bulletin of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada, the electoral name registered by Elections Canada of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) or CPC(M-L).
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