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Politics is a nasty business and attack ads have become a staple of the modern political campaign. One of the earliest and most famous of the modern era was the 1964 “Daisy” commercial, which featured a little girl pulling peddles off a flower, before being incinerated by a nuclear bomb, and urging the viewer to vote for Lyndon B. Johnson.
Canadians are no stranger to this type of advertising either. Campaigning against free trade in 1988, the Liberals ran an ad that showed the Canadian border being erased. The Progressive Conservatives fired back in 1993 with a below-the-belt punch in which viewers were asked whether Jean Chrétien’s face looked prime ministerial enough.
There’s no question our political discourse would be greatly improved if politicians talked more about the issues, instead of attacking each others character. Gearing up for the Oct. 6, provincial election, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called for an end to political attack ads.
“Let’s bring some civility back to our politics,” said NDP MPP Michael Prue, who was discussing the subject on The Arlene Bynon Show. “Let us be the first one to say, ‘we are going down the wrong road as a society.’ What we need to do is to have really good dialogue around issues.”
I heard this while driving in my car and looked out the window to see if hell — I mean Toronto — had frozen over, because I don’t usually agree with the NDP. But then came the kicker. In true socialist fashion, the NDP doesn’t want to set an example by raising the level of discourse and refusing to run ads that attack other candidates on a personal level. Ms. Horwath and her party want to forcibly create a level playing field by banning all political advertisements before an election campaign, even ones that are paid for by third-party interest groups.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently dealt with this issue in the Citizens United case. The case was over whether the group Citizens United could be found in violation of election laws that limit the amount of money third-parties can spend on advertising, for producing a video that was critical of Hilary Clinton.
The court correctly stated that groups of individuals should have the right to make their political views known before an election, so long as they are not coordinating with a political campaign. Therefore, limiting corporations, non-profit organizations and unions from advertising violated the free speech rights of those involved in the groups.
And why not? Free speech is a fundamental element of any democracy. Allowing people to freely debate the issues of the day is how we arrive at the truth and it is ultimately our only means of keeping our government accountable. More speech is never a bad thing.
The NDP are essentially saying that you and I (and the rest of the proletariat) cannot think for ourselves; that we cannot sort through the various political messages we receive and make up our own minds about who to vote for. If this were the case, then the entire democratic experiment will have been a big waste of time.
Might as well go with the NDP plan and have the government we elect tell us who to vote for, or give up on the whole thing altogether and have the experts in the Politburo centrally plan our lives for us. What’s next, journalists against a free press? … Unfortunately.
Last week, the Quebec government proposed imposing a separate class of journalists who would be given preferential access to government officials, so long as they meet certain criteria. In other words, members of the fourth estate, who are supposed to keep government accountable, would have to be licensed by the state before talking to government officials, who are supposed to work for everybody.
What kind of self-respecting journalists would be in favour of what is possibly the biggest threat to freedom of the press in this country since Alberta’s Accurate News and Information Act of 1937? If you answered the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, a group that says it defends “freedom of the press and the public right to information,” you would be correct. That group has no problem with the idea, so long as it gets to decide who is and is not a “real” journalist.
Politicians have, by and large, never been big fans of free speech. But in the past couple weeks, we’ve seen politicians proposing measures that would give them a monopoly on ideas — and private organizations that are all too happy to get in on the action. And that is a scary development, indeed.