Sunday, May 18, 2008

Elections Should Be About More Free Speech - Not Less!

If you have some time to reflect on your right of freedom of speech today – and who amongst doesn’t have that topic as top of mind on a long holiday weekend ;~)…read Mark Milke’s piece in the Calgary Herald today.

I agree with him and tried to say so in an earlier blog post. I think it is a mistake to limit third party advertising in election campaigns. Instead I think those who engage in such freedom of speech activities have a duty to be open, transparent and accountable for their actions.

The reforms I suggest are, first, don’t let such proselytizers hide behind screens like “Albertans for Change” when they are in fact the Building Trades Council and the Alberta Federation of Labour. The sponsors of the messages have to state clearly and precisely who they are.

Next we need to consider if they should be registered under the new Lobbying legislation if they undertake such activities in election times. This new law is coming to Alberta eventually. Why does it take so long to draft the regulations and proclaim this Act anyway Mr. Premier?

And lastly perhaps the sponsors should be required to file, in advance with Elections Alberta, a budget indicating what they intend to spend, where and when in such campaigns and this information should be public. I am not so sure on this last thought but the information would help Albertans judge if some special interest group was trying to buy our attention with advertising instead of persuading us based on the merits of their positions.

Political advertising is very effective in the States but not as embedded nor as effective in the Canadian political culture. Americans seem to think the more something is advertised the better it must be. Canadians think if you have to heavily advertise something, there must something inherently wrong with it. My belief is that paid political advertising has a place but it is not the way to win elections. Paid political advertising at the party level is essentially the price you have to pay for being boring or irrelevant. It gets attention but it is not very effective at influencing opinion and is will not ensure the voter behaviour ou want either.

Word of mouth is much more effective in gathering real political support that actually shows up and votes. That is still best done by old fashioned door knocking and face time with citizens. The next most effective way is Word of Mouse. That is an emerging technique using the connective power of the Internet and viral potential of social networking for electronic “door knocking.”